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11 Things Travelers Need To Know About Visiting Italy

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If you have never been to Italy before, get ready for some culture shock. There are some drastic differences between life in America compared to life in Italy. To avoid looking like a complete tourist newbie, here are 11 things you need to know before traveling to Italy.

Venice Water taxi

Cover Charge At Restaurants

All throughout Italy (not just in the big cities!) don’t be surprised if you see a ‘coperto’ (cover charge) on the bill. This fee has been around since the middle ages in Italy and applies to everyone regardless of what you are ordering. The fee will range from 1.50€ all the way up to 5€ and is on a per-person basis.

Don’t Drive In The Fast Lane

Unless you’re always the fastest one on the road and drive in excess of 95 mph, only use the fast lane for passing. While this is a common rule in North America, drivers are more polite and will wait until you move over. In Italy, they are definitely not as forgiving. I learned the hard way on multiple occasions driving across Italy when out of the blue I would see flashing high beams, loud honking, and a car inches from my bumper, literally almost pushing me out of the lane. Pass when needed but then get back over. Italians do not accept driving in the fast lane unless you are willing to be the fastest car on the road.

Driving in Italy

Still Or Sparkling Water?

If you want water at a restaurant, you’ll need to pay for it. As soon as you sit down, the server will come to the table and ask if you want still or sparkling water. Trust me, it’s easier to just accept the fact you pay for water in Italy and order the type of water you want. Trying to explain you want free tap water will just get blank stares and isn’t worth the trouble of trying to explain it.

Dining In Venice

Pizza and Pasta Are Not The Most Common Dishes

While it’s true that Italians love pizza and pasta, the most common dishes on the menu are actually seafood-based. Most restaurant menus consist of large amounts of seafood and in some cities finding a dish without fish can even be challenging.

Some regions like Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna will have more meat options, but cities like Venice, Naples, and other coastal hotspots will be 75% or more seafood.

Vegetarians may also have a hard time, especially in more rural regions, as many Italians consider fish as a ‘vegetarian’ option.

Furthermore, many dishes you’ve grown up with in the west like ‘spaghetti and meatballs’ or ‘chicken fettucine alfredo’, don’t actually exist in Italy.

They Love A Firm Mattress

The soft princess beds we have in North America don’t exist in Italian hotels. Italians prefer a nice firm mattress and unless you are staying in a luxurious 5-star hotel, don’t expect memory foam cuddle beds. Italy receives a large number of German tourists and from what we were told, they love also love a hard mattress. Don’t bother complaining or writing a review that the mattress was too hard, it’s supposed to be.

Why Are The Restaurants Closed At Dinner Time?

While you scroll google reviews looking for your perfect dinner spot, be sure to check their operating hours. Italians eat much later than Americans and most good restaurants don’t even open their doors until 7:30 pm, with many choosing to dine at 9 or 10 pm. To tide yourself over, grab a slice of pizza from one of the many take-out pizza places.

Get Your Wallet Out

Unless you are eating pizza and staying at hostels, Italy is going to cost you. Venice, Rome, Florence, and beach towns like Positano are expensive. With Italy being one of the most popular destinations in the world, the prices reflect that. The exchange rate for Americans and Canadians especially is hard on the pocketbook. For every Euro, Americans will spend $1.20 and for Canadians, it skyrockets to $1.49!

Trevi Fountain

Bread Is Your Best Friend

Get ready to eat more bread than you ever have in your life. Bread is automatically served with every meal including breakfast. You’ll notice where you are in Italy also depends on the type of bread you get. While in Venice the bread is really hard and chewy, the bread is softer in areas like Calabria. You’ll never eat more bread in your life.

If you try and decline bread service at the start of a meal, most servers will look at you as if you’ve lost your mind.

Wine Is Cheaper Than Soda

Italy loves wine and it’s literally on tap everywhere you go. It’s easy to find a glass of wine for as low as 2 euros (in some cases even a 1/4 or 1/2 liter for that price!) and my wife said it actually tastes good! Cheap wine in Italy does not mean bad wine. I constantly paid more for a single Coke Zero than she paid for a glass of wine with dinner. We saw bottles of wine in the grocery stores for as low as €1.25.

Wine Inexpensive at restaurant

Turn a Blind Eye

Italy isn’t all sunshine and rainbows like you see in the movies. Curb your expectations before arriving and turn a blind eye to some of the not so pretty things you’ll see. Italy is a beautiful country full of amazing architecture and history. Like every country, it does have its fair share of problems as well. From the graffiti coming into Rome, litter problems, over-tourism at most attractions, and the scam artists throwing friendship bracelets at you, Italy can be tiring and at some points even annoying. It’s better to just forget about the negative and focus on the positive.

Snooze

In the afternoon you’ll notice stores, shops, and restaurants may be closed. The afternoon siesta in Italy is part of their culture. It usually will run from 1-4 pm so this is a great time to do some sightseeing or have your own snooze! Trust me, there is nothing better to rejuvenate from the chaos of big cities in Italy, than to take a nap.

Walking on Italy streets with flag

While we absolutely loved our time in Italy, it’s best done in small doses if you’re coming from North America. Try not to fit too many cities or attractions into a short time frame. Take it easy, see the attractions that interest you most, and don’t feel the pressure to see it all. That way you can enjoy your time without feeling rushed while also adjusting to the culture.

Read More:

Travel Insurance That Covers Covid-19

Top 10 Destinations To Visit In Italy

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Stephen White

Monday 2nd of August 2021

I am a certified Italophile, having been there 25 times and hoping to travel there again in a few weeks. The "coperto" charge is indeed common, but I've found it usually includes the charge for bread so that's one thing that helps to curb your appetite (as your article says). Given that European waiters are paid better than in the States, I wouldn't be surprised if the coperto isn't just one of the ways management helps pay servers' salaries. I agree with Kashlee about the prevalence of seafood. I'm not allergic like her husband, but I don't care for seafood as a rule, and my wife is vegetarian and doesn't eat it at all. It was tricky in Venice, but most other places we've been do offer tasty non-seafood dishes. Thanks for an informative and accurate article about my favorite country! :-)

Kashlee Kucheran

Monday 2nd of August 2021

Yes, you are so right, we found it the hardest in Venice especially! We actually had to ask a few restaurants if they could prepare a special dish to get around this ;) Thank you so much for the kind words!

EdwardV

Thursday 29th of July 2021

Don't even bother to ask for a wine list, just ask for a glass of red or white. Believe me, you will be happy as the house wine is always fantastic. They wouldn't serve it otherwise. As for driving, outside of Tuscany, don't even bother. Public transport between major tourist areas is excellent. It's safe, convenient, and all cities (even Rome) are very walkable. Honestly most Italians have little concept of safe driving, and car insurance is expensive. The only place I ever needed to rent a car is Tuscany. That said, I love Italy and will be there again in September. Can't wait.

Sara

Thursday 29th of July 2021

"the most common dishes on the menu are seafood"??? I am Italian and this is really not true.

Kashlee Kucheran

Thursday 29th of July 2021

During our 6-weeks throughout Italy we found that 75% of all dishes in coastal cities like Venice, Naples, Tropea, etc were all seafood. Endless amounts of shrimps on pastas, cuttlefish risottos, muscles, and oysters, seabass, etc. Trevor is allergic, so it was a massive struggle to find him dishes other than plain pasta or pizza that didn't have seafood in these areas. Florence was a different story for sure and one of Trevor's favorite places because of this. As a westerner, most of us don't think Italy is going to be such a seafood-heavy place, but in reality, it is.

Jason

Thursday 29th of July 2021

Thank you for the timely article. Just arrived in Milan yesterday and started roaming, the water and cover charge is a new thing for me, but hey first you don't have to pay tips, secondly while in Rome... bring on the sparkling water!