One step into Italy, and you’ll be in love. This place is extraordinary, but with every new destination comes different challenges, languages, or cultural differences. Here are a few important things we wish we knew more about before an amazing Italian vacation.
PACK LIGHT FOR ITALY
Only pack a personal item (backpack) and a carry on. You’ll be walking so much, and there are many stairs everywhere. Italy is not very friendly towards those with disabilities or limited accessibility. You’ll be greeted with many stairs, uneven walkways, cobblestones, and tight corners everywhere you look. Dress according to the weather, but leave the high heels at home and bring quality walking shoes only.
BRING CASH IN EUROS
Italy uses the Euro as the official currency. We recommend changing your money for about 100 euros BEFORE leaving your home country. Exchange fees are roughly 15%, but you need to factor in the exchange rate. Exchanging $100 cash at the train station only got us 50 euros after the exchange rate and broker fees. We price-checked and found this was common. You’re much better off exchanging money at the bank before you leave your home country.
The only cash we needed was for various Airbnb fees tacked on after booking, so the host is not taxed on taxes and fees. (Or something like that…) We found this quite common – we experienced it at 5 out of 6 stays. We paid between 8 and 30 euros for taxes or cleaning fees in various places. There were only a few times we wished we had extra euros on hand for only one scoop of gelato or small trinkets.
Credit cards with the tap function are widely accepted everywhere. We used our Capital One Venture X travel credit card (with no international fees) and experienced zero issues using it the entire trip.
KNOW A FEW BASIC ITALIAN WORDS
As long as you’re kind and going to major cities and tourist destinations, you should experience virtually no language barrier issues. On every Italian trip, nearly everyone we met spoke very good or at least passing/understandable English.
It’s always best to learn basic Italian greetings, and most people will smile (they appreciate that you tried with the greeting at least, even if the pronunciation isn’t great). They’ll typically immediately respond in English.
KEY ITALIAN PHRASES TO KNOW
- Buongiorno – pronounced bwahn-joor-no – means Good day (said before sundown)
- Buonasera – pronounced bweh-nah-seh-rah – means Good evening (said after sundown)
- Arrivederci – pronounced ah-ree-vah-dehr-chee – means Goodbye
- Ciao – pronounced chow – means Casual hello/goodbye (Say only after someone says it to you first, otherwise, use the more formal greeting and goodbye of buongiorno, buonasera, and arrivederci)
- Grazie – pronounced graht-seh – means Thank you
Breakfast is typically very light and consists of a simple croissant and a shot of espresso.
Lunch is casual and, of course, served around mid-day. It’s the perfect meal to enjoy a simple yet incredible pizza.
Aperitivo is similar to an American happy hour and is the perfect time to enjoy a cocktail and snack before a long, late dinner.
Dinner is eaten quite late, and they are long, luxurious experiences. With many courses, settle in because you’ll be dining for a while – and enjoying every moment. Need help picking a great restaurant? Check out my tips for that here.
Gelato is available throughout the day and should be liberally enjoyed while in Italy. If you avoid these three things, you won’t have gelato in Italy! Here are signs of where not to stop at. Places with:
- Gelato piled high. This is to bring in tourists as you can typically spot them from across the street.
- Brightly colored gelato – artificial flavors are never as good as the real thing!
- Really eager staff standing outside wanting you to come in. If they try that hard to get customers in, the food quality will most likely not be the best.
ITALIAN DINING TERMS TO KNOW:
- Osteria — Unpretentious dining. Think more like a hole-in-the-wall tavern. Typically offers a more limited menu, but occasionally you can find gems with a lot to offer.
- Bar — This does not mean an American bar. Get coffee, beer, gelato, and quick breakfasts. More like a coffee bar/snack bar than anything.
- Pizzaria — This is a pizza place. If a pizzeria offers too much more than pizza, avoid it.
- Trattoria — Smaller, cheaper, and less fancy than a ristorante
- Ristorante — Nicer restaurant, similar to an American sit-down restaurant.
- Gelateria — Gelato! Get ready for the most delicious, creamy ice cream on the planet.