How to Survive in Italy: A Guide to Local Etiquette


credit: boston_public_library

As one of the most popular and unforgettable travel destinations in the world, Italy is an easy country for visitors to navigate. There are countless resources available for travelers, no matter where they hail from or what their budget. But adequate preparation is the key to all successful trips. So it certainly pays to spend some time orienting yourself in the culture before embarking on your Italian adventure. By keeping these simple tips and cultural nuances in mind during your travels, you will not only survive in Italy, you will thrive there!

Basic Preparation

When you make up your mind to visit Italy, the first thing you should do is decide which regions to visit. Apart from the obvious practical necessity of putting together a basic itinerary, weather should be a big factor in determining how you pack. As a mountainous country spanning a vast north-south distance, the climate in Italy varies widely. But whether you are headed to the Alps or the Sicilian beach, it is always best to pack light to spare yourself the hassle of lugging around an awkward and impractical load.

Travelers should also invest in basic travel insurance plans, which cover theft, loss, and medical expenses in the event of an accident. But perhaps most importantly, spend some time learning a bit of the language. Though English is common, the locals greatly appreciate visitors who make an honest attempt to learn Italian, and you’ll generally find an even warmer welcome when you can speak a few basic phrases.

Dress the Part

Italians tend to dress quite formally in comparison to fashions elsewhere in the world. Be particularly mindful about covering knees, shoulders, and midriffs when visiting basillicas, churches, the Vatican, and other religious sites.

Eating Italian

Expect to eat late in Italy, with most restaurants not opening until at least 7pm. It is customary for Italians to drink coffee before and after meals, but never during. Light breakfasts, often consisting of little more than a cup of coffee, are the norm. And it is also good to keep in mind that many restaurants charge for bread, although they bring it to the table as a matter of course.

When to Go

The best time to visit is between April and June, when the spring landscapes are at their most beautiful, the summer heat and crowds are yet to arrive, and the high-season prices are still months away.

Secure Valuables

Unfortunately, pickpockets and petty theft are common in many of Italy’s most crowded public transit hubs and tourist centers. But basic precautions are enough to prevent theft, and vigilant travelers are unlikely to encounter problems. Remember to sling bags and purses across your body, rather than over one shoulder. Wear a money-belt under your clothes to keep passport, cash, and cards secure. And never leave valuables in parked vehicles, especially overnight. If there is a safe in your hotel room, it is always best to leave your travel necessities safely locked up in the room. As an added precaution, travelers should always carry a photocopy of their passport and visa page.

Miscellaneous Tips

Standard tourist visas are valid for 90 days. As a general rule, visitors should avoid loud talking, cell phones, and eating in museums, galleries, and historic sites. And it is not uncommon for businesses to close between 2-4pm for midday siestas, so plan ahead.

Being mindful of these easy travel trips will no doubt enhance your time in gorgeous Italy. Culture, history, exquisite cuisine, and gorgeous natural landscapes await. So enjoy your stay, make the most of your time there, and have a safe journey!

William Blithe is a member of HouseTrip’s writing team. He’s currently soaking up the Italian culture in Rome and staying in a traditional apartment from HouseTrip.

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