If you want to explore Italy like a local, take time to stop, eat, and engage with the locals about their customs and habits, and enjoy the scenery.
There is no need to rush; after all, that’s the definition of “la dolce vita.”
It’s only by doing so that you’ll truly be able to bask in the experience and make new memories that will last a lifetime.
If you are looking for practical tips to make your trip more memorable, you’ve come to the right place!
This guide will give you insider tips that aren’t necessarily well-known.
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How to explore Italy like a local
You might think that the best way to explore Italy is by visiting attractions and taking in the sights. That’s fine if you have only a couple of weeks, but a very rewarding way to travel through Italy is by getting to know the people.
Italians are among the most warm and welcoming people on earth, so take advantage of it and meet them!
As the world becomes more globalized, it’s becoming easier to cut corners and stick to tried-and-true travel methods.
This, of course, isn’t always a bad thing, but if your idea of an idyllic trip is being able to explore Italy like a local, you may want to consider taking a few extra minutes to experience life as it happens.
By slowing down long enough for mindfulness, you’re likely to appreciate it even more.
Italy’s combination of natural beauty and cultural heritage is a huge draw for tourists.
But with so many people seeking out the same experiences—landmarks, restaurants, monuments—it can be hard to feel like you’re really getting to know the country.
If you want to explore Italy with a sense of authenticity, ditch the guidebook and try these tips instead:
Go off the beaten path
While it’s tempting to stick with major cities during your trip, there are some amazing small towns in Italy worth visiting.
Take a look at some of the smaller towns in Tuscany, Veneto, or Puglia; they’re more likely to be affordable than places like Florence and Venice, and offer a different experience from their big-city counterparts.
Touristy areas are great for checking out some of Italy’s most famous sites and attractions, but if you’re looking for some great food or even just a good shopping area, get away from the hustle and bustle of crowded areas like Venice’s Piazza San Marco or Rome’s Colosseum.
Talk to the locals
Italians are known for being friendly and open-minded, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone when you visit.
Many people speak English in major tourist areas, and even if you have to use Google Translate for some phrases, most Italians will be happy just to connect with you on a personal level.
Ask them where they hang out on their days off and you might find a quaint cafe or restaurant serving delicious food that tourists don’t even know exists.
You’ll also get to experience things as they are meant to be experienced by locals.
It’ll also likely be cheaper!
A great way to meet a typical Italian family is by choosing family-run facilities.
Consider staying at an “agriturismo” (working farm), or try an “albergo diffuso”, which is a hotel spread out across several historic buildings in a small community.
These are run directly by the owners and allow you to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Search for local events
There’s no better way to see a city like a local than by attending a local event.
If you’re lucky, you’ll run into some characters who are passionate about their city and who’ll give you an authentic experience.
Your first step should be researching upcoming events in whichever region you’re visiting.
You can search by region, date, and event type to find opportunities for local exploration.
I’d recommend checking out the event calendar of your intended destination.
Just Google “[city name] events” and voilà!
Visit a local market
The large cities of Italy have their share of tourist traps.
But if you want to get away from the crowds, head to the local markets, where Italians go to buy fresh produce and fish for their weekly shopping.
If you want to wander through the stalls and absorb the atmosphere, go early in the morning after breakfast.
Not only are local markets a great way to meet the locals, but it’s also a great way to try delicious and authentic food items.
When you’re at your destination, head down to the nearest neighborhood market (you can use Google Maps or ask around), where you’ll find everything from fresh produce and artisan cheeses to homemade pasta and freshly baked breads.
Some of my favorite markets in Italy include the Rialto Fish Market in Venice, the Mercato Centrale in Florence, and the Campo de’ Fiori market in Rome, which is held every morning (except Sundays) in the square of the same name, close to Piazza Navona.
Go out for an “aperitivo”
You’ll see Italians queuing up at bars around 6 p.m., but they’re not lining up for drinks (not yet anyway).
They’re there for aperitivo, which is the name of the Italian pre-dinner drinks.
Aperitivo is an all-Italian tradition, a moment to be shared with friends and a symbol of relaxation, leisure, and peace.
It embodies some of the most distinctive aspects of our “Bel Paese”: fashion and a passion for food.
It’s customary to order an alcoholic beverage and then help yourself to snacks laid out on the bar counter.
The custom has become popular among many Italians who have adopted the trend, which normally takes place between 6 and 8 p.m., especially on Fridays, after work, or on weekends.
Eat at mealtimes
Locals tend to eat lunch around noon and dinner around 7 p.m., so if you want to avoid the tourist trap restaurants that stay open all day long, try to time your meals with those of the locals.
You’ll not only save money (and possibly gain a few pounds), but also enjoy authentic Italian cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere.
I recommend eating at restaurants where local families are dining.
Get to know the coffee culture
Takeaway coffee is not a common practice in Italy.
Although some bars in major tourist areas now provide coffee to go, a true Italian would never dream of having his coffee on the move.
Instead, he’d drink his coffee while standing at the bar counter.
Standing at the bar is one of the behaviors that outsiders don’t fully understand, and it’s nearly impossible to find outside of Italy.
A few minutes to break up the working day: the break at the bar is vital for recharging and refuelling.
So, here’s how you order a coffee like a local: order with the cashier first, then deliver your receipt to the barista, and drink your coffee while standing at the bar.
And, if you want a “latte,” tell the barista “un latte macchiato,” unless you want a cup of milk.
Be Flexible With Your Itinerary
One of the most important things to do to explore Italy like a local is to be flexible with your itinerary.
You don’t need to fill every hour with an activity.
In fact, it’s better not to — that way, if you find something truly awesome, you can spend the time there and not worry about the next place on your list.
And if you get lost, or something goes wrong, or a local tells you about something really cool nearby, or a whole village decides to throw a party for some obscure reason (this actually happens), you’ll have time to enjoy it!
Italy has so much to see that it’s tempting to try to see it all.
But instead of packing your itinerary with cities and sights, decide what’s most important to you and focus on those.
By being flexible and deciding where you want to go based on your mood that day, you’ll feel less rushed and more like a local.
Try Local Recreation
It’s also important to try local recreation.
There are lots of options all over Italy, and you don’t need to be a serious athlete to join in on these activities; just ask around and see what fits your interests and abilities.
Slow down long enough to appreciate “la dolce vita.”
If you want to explore Italy like a local, take some time to relax and enjoy the scenery. There is no need to rush.
By following the above advice and tips, you’ll find that you can truly immerse yourself in the Italian way of life.
Go slowly, take your time, and savor each passing experience.
It’s how you travel that makes the ultimate statement about yourself and your approach to life.
Keep these techniques in mind next time you plan a trip, and I know that your Italian vacation will be one for the books!
If this post inspires you to travel to Italy, remember to stay true to yourself.
There’s no reason to feel pressured into trying anything that doesn’t feel right for you or your soul.
But if you want a guide on how to get there, stick around.
I hope to see you in Italy soon.