Italy: Where to begin? Italy is a country in Southern Europe, often described as the “boot” because of its shape.
It’s one of the most popular destinations for a lot of people out there, ranging from those who are simply curious to first-timers willing to visit the country as soon as possible for their dream vacation. There is a reason why so many people travel to Italy: its beautiful landscapes, amazing food, and rich history and art.
I can say that if you want to have an amazing experience in Italy and save some money too, you have to plan ahead. And, as you plan your next trip, you may be interested in learning about local customs and traditions.
Well, you’re in the right place. I’m Italian, and I’m here to share all my Italy travel tips, tricks, and hacks: and, here I’m going to give you some tips on how to avoid looking like a total noob tourist on your first trip to Italy.
However, before we dive into this list of do’s and don’ts in Italy, there is something new you should be aware of when planning your trip to Italy.
You should be aware that, starting at the end of 2022, you’ll most likely need to apply for an ETIAS permit to travel to Italy.
This new rule also applies to those who can now travel to Italy without a visa, such as U.S. citizens, who will also be required to apply for the new electronic authorization. Fear not, you can apply online in minutes.
Ok, we’re ready to go now! Let’s start with some examples of “Italian-friendly” behaviors:
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Do’s and Don’ts in Italy
Do use your hands to communicate.
If you need information but don’t speak the language, you can use gestures to communicate. This Italian stereotype is entirely accurate.
Do keep some cash on hand.
Nowadays, almost all shops and restaurants accept credit cards; however, not all of them do, and you’ll almost certainly find someone who doesn’t accept card payments. So it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand.
Do take care of your belongings.
You must be extremely cautious with your belongings, just as you would in any other country. Pickpockets are always lurking around the corner, usually on public transportation or in crowded areas. So keep all valuables in a tightly closed and secure bag to deter anyone from attempting to access them.
Do keep your knees and shoulders covered.
Italy is a very Catholic country, and you must dress appropriately to enter places of worship. So, if you’re going to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, or any other beautiful church, make sure to cover your shoulders and knees properly.
Do relax and enjoy Italian culture
No matter how many times you’ve been to Italy, each time is a new experience. Enjoy your stay, relax, and live “la dolce vita!” After all, you’re in Italy, and you know what we say: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
And now here are the “don’ts.” But don’t worry, these aren’t hard-and-fast rules. We are flexible and relaxed when it comes to other people’s flaws.
Don’t ask to share your pizza.
Never, ever ask an Italian to share his or her pizza. When you order pizza in Italy, you will receive a pizza on a plate, which, as large as it may appear to you, is only for one person. And Italians don’t like to share it.
Also, don’t order unusual toppings on your pizza, such as pineapple or ketchup, especially if you’re in Naples; they’ll think you’re insane.
Don’t ever cut up spaghetti.
The proper way to eat spaghetti is to wrap it around the fork, using the plate to help you. The reason for this method is that the essence of spaghetti must be respected. Also, don’t order “spaghetti Bolognese,” which doesn’t exist in Italy, they’re a British invention; we do have “tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese,” a delicious first course from Emilia Romagna.
And, if you just can’t do without the meatballs, then you could order a plate of “spaghetti al pomodoro” first, followed by the meatballs as a second course.
Pro-tip for this one: if you see “spaghetti bolognese” on the menu of a restaurant in Italy, it’s probably a tourist trap!
Don’t order Fettuccine Alfredo
This dish, made with pasta, butter, and Parmesan cheese, is common on the menus of most Italian restaurants around the world. It is also frequently served with roasted chicken or sour cream. The issue is that no one in Italy is aware of it.
Only one restaurant in Italy serves authentic fettuccine Alfredo: “ll Vero Alfredo,” also known as “L’Imperatore delle Fettuccine” (the Emperor of Fettuccine), in the heart of Rome. Here you can taste the original recipe, handed down from generation to generation, of this dish that has become famous all over the world but not in Italy.
Don’t put cheese on pasta with seafood
Italians have a strong relationship with food and very specific ideas about what you can and cannot do with it. This is something you should never do.
Don’t order a cappuccino after 11:00 a.m.
An Italian would never order a cappuccino after 11 a.m.; we only drink it in the morning. After lunch or dinner, you can order a caffè macchiato, which can be hot, with hot foamy milk, or macchiato freddo, and they will usually bring you a cup of cold milk to add to your coffee.
Beware that if you only order a latte in Italy, you will be served a glass of cold milk.
Don’t expect a hearty breakfast.
Don’t expect a full-bodied savory breakfast; the Italian breakfast is sweet and quick, consisting of an espresso coffee, or cappuccino, and a croissant, also known as brioche, or some biscuits.
If you’ve booked a hotel in a tourist area with breakfast included, you’ll most likely find a menu with several savory breakfast options, but don’t rely too much on it.
Don’t expect to dine early.
In comparison to other European countries, we are not in the habit of eating early in Italy. Restaurants do not open until 7 p.m., and dinner is served beginning at 7:30 p.m. The kitchen is open from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. for lunch. If you’re used to different hours, treat yourself to an aperitif and some appetizers while sipping on a good glass of prosecco or a spritz.
Tipping in restaurants is not mandatory in Italy, as the service is already included in the bill. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of rounding up if you are extremely satisfied.
Don’t think the “coperto” is a scam to get money out of you.
Many restaurants list the price of a “coperto” on their menus. But what exactly is a “coperto”?
A “coperto” is the price per person charged when you sit down at the table, and it includes the price for the table setting, bread, and table cleanup.
Don’t forget to ask for the bill.
Don’t expect the bill to be brought to your table in an Italian restaurant. This doesn’t mean that they’re ignoring you; it’s simply that, in Italy, lunch and dinner time is a convivial moment and you shouldn’t be in a hurry. When you’re ready to go, give the waiter a nod, and he’ll bring you the bill.
Don’t expect public transportation to be on time.
Italian public transportation, unlike high-speed trains, is not always on time.
Regional trains, which typically run shorter distances and are slower, are frequently late. Keep this in mind when planning your itinerary; if you need to make changes, always factor in a delay of 10-15 minutes to ensure you have enough time to catch the next train.
Don’t forget to validate your ticket.
A ticket for a regional train in Italy does not have a time or date because it can be purchased in advance and used as needed.
Then, when you’re using it, remember to validate it to avoid hefty fines once on the train.
It’s very simple, there are usually machines on the platform where you board the train; simply insert your ticket and it will be validated with the date and time of your trip.
Don’t plan museum visits on Sundays.
When planning your itinerary, be sure not to include visits to museums or well-known tourist spots on Sundays. In Italy, Sunday is a day of rest; many businesses are closed, and many people do not work, opting instead to take a weekend getaway. As a result, these locations may be crowded. When planning your itinerary, I recommend checking your calendar and taking advantage of these days to go on a walking tour, wander the streets at your own pace, or visit a lesser-known village.
Don’t expect to find stores always open.
Although large stores in tourist cities often keep regular hours, many stores close between 1 and 4 p.m., particularly outside of the city center.
This surprises and confuses tourists, particularly Americans. At that time, Italians return home to have lunch with their families and to unwind. That’s what we call “la dolce vita!”
Don’t expect to hail a cab by waving your hands.
Waving your hands to hail a cab is not a common practice in Italy, though it is amusing to see Americans try and, on rare occasions, succeed. In Italy, the best way to hail a cab is to go to a dedicated cab stand marked by an orange sign, or call the radio cab number, which varies depending on the city.
Don’t forget to learn some basic Italian.
Learning a few basic Italian phrases makes it much easier to get around town and interact with the locals. They love it when you try to speak a little Italian with them, even if you only know the basics. Also, avoid greeting everyone with a “ciao.” This is an informal greeting and we only use it with relatives and friends. When you walk into a store or meet someone for the first time, you can say “salve,” which is the formal version of “ciao.”
Bonus tip: “Fare la scarpetta” (Lit.: “making the little shoe”) Do’s or Don’ts?
Finally, I wanted to say something about the art of “fare la scarpetta,” which is an all-Italian art of mopping up sauce from a plate with bread. Due to etiquette concerns, it is commonly regarded as a bad habit.
Ok, let’s dispel a myth right away: it’s not true that etiquette forbids one from cleaning one’s plate with a piece of bread. The truth is that mopping the bread on the plate with one’s hands is considered rude by etiquette.
This means that if you use a fork, the scarpetta is fine, but if you use your hands, it’s a big no-no.
I hope you had fun reading these recommendations for do’s and don’ts in Italy, at least as much as I did in writing them.
Let me know in the comments below if there’s anything on this list that surprises you.
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Ciao and Safe travels!