There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist in Italy. It’s exciting to visit a new destination you may not be overly familiar with — and getting to know a new place is one of the reasons we love to travel in the first place. Plus, Italy has some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, so who wouldn’t want to explore it with fresh eyes?
But being a tourist doesn’t mean you have to fall prey to travel scams or make rookie mistakes. Our list of tips and tricks for avoiding typical blunders when visiting Italy will ensure you still get to enjoy being a tourist, you just won’t be, well, that tourist making faux pas left and right. Avoid making these nine mistakes:
1. Not booking your tickets in advance for major attractions
This is especially important in the most popular tourist hubs of Italy like the Vatican or Colosseum in Rome, Florence’s art museums and galleries or the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, where Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting “The Last Supper” lives.
If you don’t buy your tickets ahead of time, you may not get in to see the attraction you want or you may spend several hours waiting in long lines. Add the scorching Italian sun in summer to the mix, and what was supposed to be your dream day exploring some of the world’s most iconic attractions ends with you cranky, exhausted, sunburned, dehydrated and who knows — you may not even get to see what you waited for. Plus, bright red sunburn is a key sign you’re a tourist.
Depending on your desired attraction, it may take a little planning. You may have to purchase and adhere to timed tickets or pay extra for skip-the-line tickets. You may want to consider a city pass, which bundles access to tourist attractions with public transport, free drinks, dining discounts and more. But it will be worth it when you finally get to see some of Italy’s most magnificent wonders — and hopefully without the long waits.
2. Only eating pizza and pasta
Here at TPG, we have absolutely nothing against pizza and pasta. In fact, we love it. But Italy’s gastronomy scene goes so much further than just these beloved delights, and it would be a crime not to truly indulge in some other delicious Italian foods, too.
Italy’s best cuisine varies greatly by region. For example, the slow food movement is popular in Piedmont and those in Sicily eat lemon or almond Italian ice (granita) for breakfast, paired with brioche bread. Florence is famous for its wild boar pasta while Bergamo is known for polenta, a type of savory cornmeal porridge.
Related: 7 underrated regions in Italy with the best food and wine
And let’s not forget about the obvious: Parma is home to Parmesan cheese and Parma ham and Modena to the famous balsamic Modena vinegar. Each city and region has its own specialties, so do a little research ahead of time and make sure to note the most famous dishes of the cities you’ll be spending time in. And planning a trip around your favorite foods is perfectly fine — you wouldn’t be the first to visit Genoa solely to sample pesto or Naples to dig into a hearty plate of ragu.
3. Only sticking to the tourist track and most famous attractions
We’ve already covered how Italy has some epic bucket-list tourist attractions that you definitely shouldn’t miss and how you should plan and purchase tickets ahead. But once you’ve experienced them, also consider more off-the-beaten-path activities. Maybe that means a day trip to a nearby local village, lake or beach. Or, discovering a less touristy area of the city you’re in. It could even mean just crossing the river or getting a little space between yourself and the main square.
Ask your Airbnb host or tour guide for restaurants and bars that they would go to. These places will typically have local prices, meaning you’ll not only have a more authentic experience, but you’ll spend less, too. Visiting the second-most famous park in a city is another way to get a little off the tourist track.
If you’re worried about getting too far out of your comfort zone, you could always consider a more local tourist experience, like guided food or street art tours. You’ll be able to relax and follow a guide, but will still get a feel for how Italians really live.
4. Dining all wrong
Who knew there were so many rules when it comes to eating? If you want to enjoy Italy’s fantastic foodie scene, it’s best to avoid the following:
- Ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon. It’s better to get your milky coffee in the morning and do as the Italians do: order a shot of espresso post-lunch.
- Skipping aperitivo hour. Italians have a happy hour, too — don’t miss it! Many northern Italian restaurants offer aperitivo, which means you get access to a buffet or snacks when you order drinks. This typically occurs for a few hours pre-dinner (anywhere from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.).
- Sipping your coffee at a table or outdoors instead of the bar. It only takes a moment to toss back that shot of espresso, so save a little cash by ordering and drinking your coffee at the bar with the locals. You’ll likely be charged more to sit and even more to sit on a terrace or patio.
- Forgetting about the coperto and service charge. Many restaurants include a 10% service charge as well as a “coperto” charge for a few euros per person. Check your bill and skip the tip if these have already been included (more on tipping below).
Related: How to have a budget vacation in Italy
- Skipping the house wine. Many restaurants make or source their own wine, vino della casa. While it’s not the most expensive or most sophisticated wine (the rules for vino di tavola simply say that the wine has to be produced in Italy), it’s typically tasty and affordable. This is an especially important tip if you’re traveling on a budget.
- Eating in the main city square. If there’s ever a place for touristy food with touristy prices, it’s the main squares of each city. Don’t eat in St Marks Square in Venice or Duomo Square in Florence. Whatever you order most likely won’t taste great and the prices will be well over market rate.
- Getting your coffee to go. While it may be possible to get a to-go cup in a bigger city, an espresso shot doesn’t take long to drink. Stand by the bar, enjoy your quick dose of coffee and soak it all in.
- Pepperoni is not the circular meat you love on pizza. Contrary to popular belief outside Italy, pepperoni means peppers in Italy. So if you want sliced sausage on your pizza, order salsiccia. Diavola pizza typically comes with spicy Italian sausage similar to what tourists consider pepperoni. But if you order a pepperoni pizza, you’ll get a veggie pizza with red and green peppers.
5. Tipping excessively
We briefly covered tipping in restaurants, but generally, excessive tipping is not common in Italy. Plan to round up to the nearest euro when tipping your taxi driver. If you do plan to tip at a restaurant or bar (though it’s not customary to tip on coffee or drinks) have euros on hand to do so.
6. Expecting all spots to accept credit cards
Italy can be old-school, and that’s one of the reasons we love it so much. Don’t expect smaller restaurants, mama and papa shops and taxi drivers (always ask) to accept credit cards, especially in smaller villages or more local areas of the city.
Be prepared with euros — you can easily withdraw them out of a cash machine.
7. Not dressing appropriately for religious attractions
To enter certain churches and cathedrals, you’ll need to cover your knees and shoulders. Dress appropriately if these tourist attractions are on your list.
8. Falling prey to a travel scam or pickpocketing incident
Travel scams and robberies can happen to even the savviest of travelers. However, there are things you can do to prevent these from occurring.
- Always leave your valuables and passport in the hotel safe;
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you;
- Be cautious when taking taxis (insist they put the meter on). Consider Uber as an alternative whenever possible; and
- Be careful and alert in crowded tourist areas.
9. Forgetting that some shops may close at midday
It’s not just Spain that loves a siesta. Many Italian shop owners close their shops at midday for an afternoon riposo, or rest. This may occur anytime between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Make sure you do any key shopping on Saturday morning, too, as many shops will also be closed on Sundays. Obviously, if you’re in a large city, this is less common, but it’s still something to be mindful of, especially if you’re allocating specific time for shopping when on vacation.
There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist and making a few mistakes here and there, especially on a first trip. But if you can avoid typical errors that will ensure you have a safer and hassle-free vacation, why not do so? This way, you’ll get to see all the best attractions, enjoy the local flavor of Italy, all while keeping safe and having the time of your life.
Feature imaged courtesy of Francesco Pascale/ Getty.
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