Traveling abroad to Italy can be very exciting. A new language, new sights, new customs and the old world charm that is indigenous only to Europe. From the Alps in the North, to the stunning landscapes of the south, Italy has something to offer everybody. However, traveling abroad can also seem a bit daunting because the customs and protocols are different than those found in America. Here are some general tips to follow when traveling through Italy.
Best Time of Year to Visit Italy
The major cities in Italy, such as Rome, Florence, and Venice are extremely busy in the summer. Consider visiting in the late Fall or Winter when crowds are smaller and temperatures are cooler.
Dining in Italy
Here are a few dining tips to consider while traipsing through the cities and towns of Italy.
- Italian coffee can be very strong. To get something a little weaker, be sure to ask for a “café Americano.”
- Vegetarians will find plenty of options in the form of breads and cheeses at most restaurants.
- Lunch is typically served from 12:30 to 2:30
- Dinner is served around 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening.
- Italians certainly love to drink their wine with meals, however, they do look down upon tourists who drink too much or drink to the point of excess.
- A “bar” is it a bit different in Italy than it is in America. A bar not only serves alcoholic beverages, but is often open until dawn and serves coffee, tea, sodas, snacks and pastries as well.
- Check for regional dining customs as well once the trip has been outlined.
Shopping in Italy
Here are few shopping guidelines to adhere to when purchasing items in Italy.
- Prices are generally considered “fixed,” meaning that haggling or bartering is not accepted.
- In larger cities, stores stay open all day, but in some of the more rural towns, shops close from about 12:30 in the afternoon until 5:00. This is due to the population eating a large lunch and then taking a siesta. (Note that some museums will follow this rule too.)
- Out of town shopping centers (like malls) have begun to pop up outside of the major cities.
What to Waer in Italy
The Italians are extremely fashion conscience and insist that people dress appropriately. Dressing appropriately means not wearing shorts while visiting the major cities. Also if too much “skin” is shown, one might not be able to enter churches.
Traveling with Disabilities in Italy
Because many cities and towns were built hundreds if not thousands of years ago, the protocols are not in place for people traveling with disabilities. After outlining the trip, check with local travel offices and attractions to see if they have the proper accommodations for a given disability.
Eating Well, but Cheaply in Italy
When a Euro costs $1.30, it’s time to think seriously about money-saving strategies, and one place where travelers can usually save without missing out on wonderful experiences is in the cost of dining out in Italy. Here are a few tricks and tips for low-cost dining:
Choosing Restaurants Wisely
When looking for restaurants, avoid the heavily touristed streets and look in the neighborhoods where locals live and work. The farther from a popular attraction, the more likely the street will be to have local food at local prices. The added benefit is finding authentic dishes that are typical of the region, not the same old “Italian” dishes that foreigners expect and ask for everywhere. There is a lot more than spaghetti, and the place to find it is where the locals dine.
Don’t be afraid of eating places without English menus. Travelers will be welcomed and if necessary, the waiter will use pantomime or show the actual foods so those who don’t read Italian can make a selection. Restaurants in Italy post a menu with prices, so you can get an idea of the range before entering, even without being able to read the names of dishes.
Looking for Lunch in Italy
For lunch, look for a tavola calda. They serve hearty cafeteria-style meals where each dish is visible to customers, who ask for a serving of the ones they want. Prices are designed for locals. Many travelers do as locals do, and make this their main meal.
Another lunch strategy, especially for those who like to make full use of daylight hours and don’t want to spend a long time over lunch, is to eat in a café or bar instead of a restaurant. These usually serve sandwiches or delicious alternatives, such as bruschetta (normally a plateful in Italy, instead of a few little tidbits).
Dining Out in the Evening
In the evening, do as the locals do and eat a lighter meal, ordering just a pasta course or an appetizer. These are usually ample, especially after a larger meal at midday. Consider ordering two appetizers instead of a main course; it is perfectly acceptable to ask a waiter how big servings are, and if he indicates that they are large, this could avoid wasting food – or overeating.
Order vino de tavola – table wine – instead of a bottle. These are usually good local wines, often from small vineyards whose product never makes it beyond local tables. If in doubt, ask to “prova” – sample a little bit first to see if it is good. This is perfectly acceptable, and if it isn’t up to par, order a bottle from the wine list instead.