Must-know tips for Italy

Top 10 Must Know Tips for Italy

Who doesn’t have Italy on their bucket list? The vineyards, the beaches, the food and wine, the old stones of structures from centuries gone by. But beyond the major attractions, there’s a lot worth knowing to keep your trip running smoothly. With our list of must-know tips for Italy, you’ll soon know the ropes. Many of these seem to be about food. If this is your first trip, check out our 6 tips for before you go.

1) Spaghetti Bolognese doesn’t exist

Spaghetti bolognese is actually called tagliatelle al ragù in Italy.

Spaghetti Bolognese as we know it does not exist in Italy!

 

No really, even in Bologna. If you’re craving this ‘classic’, look for tagliatelle al ragù on the menu. This is the original inspiration for what us foreigners call bolognese. Delicious meat cooked for hours in a red tomato sauce until it falls to pieces. If you find yourself in a restaurant with bolognese on the menu, you’re in a tourist trap! You can also give up right now if you’re looking forward to some Alfredo pasta. It simply doesn’t exist.

 

2) Shops shut down for lunch

Many shops close their doors for lunch, especially in more rural areas. Italians put family first, and go home to enjoy lunchtime together. First-time travellers are often caught out, having planned to pick up a few items in the afternoon. Some shops may close for as long as 3 hours between 13:00 and 16:00! It’s all part of la dolce vita (the sweet life). Plan your itinerary around shopping in the mornings. Moreover, get involved! Consider enjoying a long leisurely family lunch yourselves! When in Rome, and all that!

 

Two young women enjoying a late lunch in Rome, Italy

3) Meals happen later

Mealtimes take place later than you’d expect. Lunch starts around 13:30, while dinner service starts around 20:30! Don’t get caught out – a long day of sightseeing may leave you starving by early evening. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb trying to find dinner so early. Also, you should know that mealtimes get later the further south you travel.

 

A beautiful basket of Italian bread, used for soaking up pasta sauce.Bonus must-know tips for Italy

Meals in Italy also last longer than we’re used to. Italians like to take the time to enjoy the company and conversation. Try it! You should also remember never to eat bread with pasta. It’s meant for mopping up the sauce when you’re done!

 

4) Bread doesn’t come free

You’ll no doubt be served bread when you sit down for your meal. It isn’t free! Your bill may reflect pane e coperto (bread and cover charge). If you’re trying to save, you’ll have to let the server know not to bring it.

 

Tipping in Italy

Bonus must-know tips for Italy

Speaking of the cover charge – this is one reason why tipping isn’t common in Italy. You can leave 1 or 2 euros if you can’t bare the thought of not tipping, but it’s not necessary. You’ll also have to ask for the bill to be brought. The server won’t do this automatically.

 

5) Drink coffee at the bar

Save money by drinking your coffee standing up at the bar in Italy.

Stand at the bar while you drink your coffee in Italy.

 

As has been noted, sitting down means you may be subject to paying a cover charge. You’ll want to avoid this if all you’re having is a quick espresso. Save money by standing at the coffee bar like the locals do. You won’t incur the extra fee, and you’ll be drinking coffee like a true Italian!

 

6) Cappuccino and espresso prices are fixed

That’s right! Because they’re so central to Italian culture, locals expect cappuccini and espressi to be affordable for all. Again, the moment you sit down you end up paying more. So, these prices apply to the coffee bar. A cappuccino will set you back around €1.20, while an espresso should only be around €1.

 

A young man drinking coffee near the Colosseum in Rome.Bonus must-know tips for Italy

Coffee prices will be higher closer to main sights and attractions, so try to enjoy a cup further away. You should also know that you need to pay for your coffee first, then present your slip at the bar. You can stand or sit after this depending on your preference. 

 

7) Validate your train ticket

 

Look out for these yellow ticket validators in italyAlways! You risk a hefty fine if you’re caught travelling without a validated ticket. This applies to the majority of public transport systems. Simply purchasing the ticket does not make it valid. Many tickets don’t show a date or time-stamp. So, you’ll need to use the validation machines at the station if you’re taking a train. You can validate your bus tickets on the actual bus. We know many of you may come from countries without established public transport. If you’re a little intimidated, check out our guide to trains in Italy!

 

8) Tabaccherie shops are super useful

A taba-what? A tobacconist. Basically, a tobacco store. Any shop that resembles a small convenience store, with the obligatory ‘T’ sign for tabaccheria. These stores sell more than just tobacco. Bus tickets, phone cards, postage stamps, lottery tickets, newspapers and various snacks are also available.

 

9) You can’t simply hail a taxi

Most official taxis in Italy are white, like these.

Registered taxis in Italy are white.

 

You need to book or call one. You should be able to find a taxi rank near the entrance of popular museums and attractions. Make sure whatever taxi you’ve secured is legitimately licensed. That’s the main thing. Look for a sticker on the windscreen or passenger window to confirm. There is no national taxi service. Each city will have their own taxi companies, so a letter research beforehand will be a big help. Additionally, you should know that Uber isn’t as popular in Italy. It operates in only 5 cities, and focuses on luxury taxis.

 

A typical taxi meter in ItalyBonus must-know tips for Italy

Make sure the meter is running, no matter what the driver tells you. Also, be sure to have small change on you. Drivers can’t always break a €50 note. The taxi rate will be printed per kilometre somewhere inside the car.  Use this info to keep track of your tab or predict an estimate for the fare.  

 

10) Orderly queueing isn’t a thing

Don’t expect an orderly queue to form outside bathrooms, in front of bars or at airports, etc. Standing in line isn’t a thing in Italy. Be assertive (but not rude), and dive straight in when you feel your turn has come.

 

Still not feeling prepared? Check out our 6 Tips for Before You Go to Italy.

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