Italy is an amazing country full of ancient charms and beautiful architecture. It can be easy to feel so comfortable in such an enchanting and inviting country, but it’s essential to know the best tips for visiting Italy. These are mistakes that most first-timers make. Read these so you can have the best experience possible.
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- Attraction Mistakes
- Accommodation Mistakes
- Packing Mistakes
- Transportation Mistakes
- Dining Mistakes
- 20. Not Knowing About Coperto
- 21. Not Trying Multiple Gelaterias
- 22. Buying the Wrong Gelato
- 23. Eating at Restaurants Near Tourist Sites
- 24. Eating at restaurants with pictures and no prices
- 25. Ordering Bottled Water
- 26. Expecting to find Spaghetti and Meatballs
- 27. Only Eating Italian Food
- 28. Not Knowing the Regional Dishes
- 29. Expecting to be able to find a “real” breakfast”
- 30. Touching the Produce
- Money Mistakes
- Rookie Mistakes
1. Only Seeing the Main Sites in the Big Cities
One of the biggest mistakes I see when people visit Italy for the first time is that they have a checklist of the most popular sites: The Colosseum, the Vatican, the Amalfi Coast, Pompei, etc., and while those are all incredible sites that should not be missed in Italy, there are so many other hidden gems around the boot that should be included in any trip to! See this list of the best places to visit in Italy that includes many hidden gems!
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2. Not Getting Attraction Tickets Beforehand
If you think you can show up in Italy mid-July and expect to get right into any attraction, think again. These are some of the most visited sites in the world! They get busy.
Purchasing tickets in advance, especially skip the line tickets, is essential. It will save you so much time and energy if you plan out your tickets and tours ahead of time. I recommend booking at least 3 months in advance. You can see the best tours and attraction tickets here.
3. Not Booking a Walking Tour
While seeing all the main attractions in Italy is a must, taking a walking tour can be really unique and informative. It’s amazing what you can learn in just a few hours of walking in any city in Italy with a knowledgable local. My favorite walking tours are done by Walks of Italy and can be found below:
4. Not Booking a Cooking Class
It would honestly be a travesty if you went to Italy and didn’t take a cooking class. I would seriously be sad for you. Italy is the birthplace of some of the oldest and most amazing food in the world. Learn how to make handmade pasta, sauces, and much more. My favorite cooking class is with my friend Sylvia in Rome, you can find it here. There are also some amazing classes here.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in Italy is booking the wrong accommodations. You’ll have a ton of great options like hotels, Airbnbs, hostels, and guest houses. There are affordable and luxury accomodations all over the country to suit any need. Don’t make these accomodation mistakes in Italy:
5. Staying in the Wrong Neighborhood
One huge mistake many people make on their first visit to Italy is that they stay in the wrong place. I don’t mean that they were staying in any dangerous neighborhoods, but some neighborhoods are just not as picturesque as others and may be a far walk or train ride from the things you’ll want to see. Be sure to find a neighborhood that is what you’re really looking for. Here are my favorite places to stay in each city:
6. Not Getting Out of the City Center
While most of the popular sites in Italy lie within the city centers, at least take a day trip out to the countryside. There are many companies that can organize a day trip outside of the major cities.
What you bring to Italy can also make or break your trip. Make sure you have everything you need, but not too much! Read my Italy Packing List for a complete list of everything you’ll want to bring.
7. Packing too Much
One big mistake people make when visiting Italy is packing too much. Especially if you’re traveling through Italy using the train system, you do not want to be hauling large pieces of luggage around.
Italy consists mostly of cobblestone streets that are not really roller bag friendly. I’m not saying you need to backpack your way through the country, but a decent-sized carryon should be sufficient. Italians dress classy, but simply.
8. Not Using Packing Cubes
Packing Cubes are life! There, I said it! Seriously though, they will change the way you pack and allow you to fit more in your carryon. I love these ones.
9. Not Wearing the Right Clothing in Churches
Italy gets hot in the summer months and sometimes international tourists are not aware of what is appropriate to be worn in churches. Shoulders and thighs should be covered. Hats should be removed. It’s a good idea for ladies to take a light scarf that you can use as a shawl in churches. Or a cardigan in cooler months.
10. Not Wearing the Right Shoes
As I mentioned above, Italy will delight you with its ancient cobblestone streets, but it will also break your ankles if you’re not careful. I recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes without a heel to save you from injury.
11. Not Packing the Right Italy Power Adapter
If you’re visiting Italy and want to charge anything, you’ll need to be sure you have the right power adapter. Italy has 2 different kinds of outlets, the standard Euro 2 prong outlet (type C) and also a 3 prong outlet (type L). I like having both options because you don’t want to be stuck with one kind of adapter when a different outlet is by your bed. So I use this 2-pack which includes both types of adapters.
Getting around Italy can be stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s easy to avoid these transportation mistakes if you do some research in advance.
12. Not Using Trains
Italy has a great train system that should be taken advantage of during your visit. It’s a great way to get around the country without spending a ton of money or renting a car. It’s also better for the environment.
13. Not Using Public Transportation in the Cities
Most cities in Italy will have a public transportation system. Make use of them and feel like a local.
14. Not validating your train ticket
This is something that I have had to learn the hard way. If you purchase a train ticket from the ticket machines in the stations, you must first validate your ticket before riding in the green validation machines. You will be subject to hefty fines if you forget this step! You can read more about train travel in Italy to learn more.
15. Letting strangers “help” you at train stations
Sadly, this is one of the biggest scams in Italy right now and I’ve almost been robbed by these “helpers.” They stand at the ticket machines offering to “help” you get your ticket, but when you’re busy looking at the machine they nab your bag or your wallet from your hands! I’ve had someone try and steal my backpack while offering to “help.” It was a scary experience, so just be alert while purchasing your tickets.
16. Not Buying Your Train Tickets in Advance
If you want to make your trip run more smoothly, save money, and not have to worry about the two mistakes above, you should purchase your train tickets before your trip. You can store your tickets digitally on your phone or print out the PDF tickets. These tickets do not need to be validated. This is the best place to book train tickets for Italy: Rail Europe.
17. Not Getting an International Driver Permit
This is probably one of the most costly and frustrating mistakes I see foreigners visiting Italy make. Most rental car companies will require you to have an international driving permit to drive in Italy if you are not an Italian citizen with an Italian license.
Getting an international driving permit could not be easier! Read here to learn how.
If you’re only spending time in the major cities of Italy, you won’t really need a car. There are so many ways to get around the cities that it is totally unnecessary. You will frustrate yourself by not being able to find parking, getting tickets for driving in restricted zones, and just generally be stressed!
If you need to rent a car for a day trip, there are plenty of rental options in the cities, but you won’t need one while you’re spending time in Rome, Florence, Venice, or Milan. If you’re really dying to try driving in the Rome, you can take a Fiat Tour through the city.
18. Not Riding a Vespa
Riding a Vespa is just part of the culture of visiting Italy. Even if you are not brave enough to ride one on your own (I’m not) you should definitely take a Vespa Tour, which is also a great way to see Italy. You can find some great Vespa tours in Italy here.
19. Not Walking Enough
While I definitely recommend using the public transportation system in Italy, it’s also essential to do a lot of walking. Most cities in Italy are very walkable and offer some unique sites on smaller side streets.
20. Not Knowing About Coperto
Coperto is a cover charge that you will see in many restaurants in Italy. It’s basically a fee for sitting down to eat. This is on top of the cost of your food and the cost of a tip. The coperto is usually listed on the front page of the menu, but if you can’t find it, you can always ask.
21. Not Trying Multiple Gelaterias
If you are going to Italy, it’s going to be necessary to have gelato at least once a day! Don’t just pick the gelateria closest to you. Try multiple gelato shops until you find your favorite.
22. Buying the Wrong Gelato
Knowing how to find the “right” kind of gelato in Italy is essential. There will be many gelaterias with enticing piles of colorful gelato, but those are not the ones you want. You want to look for the words artisanal Look for signs that say gelato in casa, fatto in casa, or gelato artigianale.
These words all mean that it is homemade, made in house, and artisanal. But beware, some shops will advertise this when it’s not actually true! Also look for gelato with natural flavors, a dull green pistachio, a white lemon, and so on. This means they are not using crazy artificial colors, which usually means that artificial flavors are being used as well.
This guide to finding the best gelato in Italy will be really helpful!
23. Eating at Restaurants Near Tourist Sites
A big mistake that many tourists in Italy make is eating somewhere with a view of the Duomo or the Colosseum. While it’s great to have a view, these will not be the best places to eat in Italy. My advice is always to walk at least 2 blocks away from a main attraction, find a place with lots of locals dining. Better yet, ask a local where to find the best food. I have yet to have a local recommendation let me down.
24. Eating at restaurants with pictures and no prices
If you see a restaurant in Italy with menus containing large, bright pictures of food and no prices…run! These are tourists trap that will overcharge you for subpar food. Look for restaurants with small menus, preferably in Italian, that have the prices clearly marked.
25. Ordering Bottled Water
The tap water in Italy is safe to drink. In fact, the water from the public fountain around town is safe to drink. You’ll see many locals filling their bottles with this water. I have yet to get sick from the drinking water in Italy. And not ordering plastic bottles of water is also helping our environment and making you a more sustainable traveler.
26. Expecting to find Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti and Meatballs…an Italian classic right? Wrong! You’ll be hard-pressed to find this dish in Italy, and if you do, I would recommend not eating at that establishment. It’s not a true Italian dish, and especially not a Roman one.
27. Only Eating Italian Food
While Italian food is amazing, Italy is a multicultural country full of many other ethnic food choices. Be adventurous and try Indian, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Brazillian, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Ethiopian, and more! You’ll find more of these choices in the big cities in Italy. There are some amazing communities full of refugees offering all kinds of dishes from around the world.
28. Not Knowing the Regional Dishes
Italy is actually a fairly new country, recently comprised of many different Italian states combined into a nation only in the 1800s. Italy previously had many different languages, cultures, and foods, and to this day, each region of Italy is very different. While you can certainly get pizza all over Italy, it’s important to recognize the different specialties in each region.
29. Expecting to be able to find a “real” breakfast”
Italians don’t really “do” breakfast. In fact, I once stayed at an Airbnb and the host said she would make me eggs because I am American haha! Usually, for breakfast in Italy, you will find coffee and pastries to be a staple. If you can’t live without a hearty breakfast, I recommend grabbing some staples like eggs, yogurt or fruit at a nearby grocery store.
30. Touching the Produce
If you go to a market in Italy, it’s not appropriate to put your own fruit into bags. While the locals are very used to international tourists who don’t know this rule, they would prefer it if you just tell them which produce items you would like, and they will then collect it for you. I’ve seen many tourists get yelled at for this one, so just be aware!
31. Getting Cash Out at a Kiosk ATM
It’s always a good idea to go to a bank that has an ATM. This way if anything happens with your card, like it gets stuck in the machine, they will have the ability to open it and retrieve your card for you. Yes this has happened! If you use a random kiosk machine you will be SOL and without your debit card!
32. Using a Credit Card with Cross Border Fees
Did you know that most credit and debit cards charge a fee each time you use it abroad? Be sure you have a credit card like Chase Sapphire that does not have any international fees and also gives you tons of travel perks.
33. Stealing Money Out of the Fountains
Um, ok, that’s just rude. I know it may seem like a fun souvenir, or maybe you’re broke? Either way, it’s bad luck (have you seen When in Rome?), and that money actually gets collected on a regular basis donated to charity! So please leave it be! I hate that I’m even writing this, but I have seen this time and time again!
34. Waiting to buy a SIM card in the Airport
When you get to the airport in Italy, you will see multiple kiosks selling Sim cards for your phone. While these are fine, they are way overpriced. I recommend using a Portable WIFI device like Sky Roam, which you can use on any device like your phone or laptop or getting a SIM card before you leave at a way better price. I like this one.
35. Being Oblivious to Scams
It’s a sad, but true fact that there are plenty of scams in Italy, just like in any other major city in the world. Wherever there are unwitting tourists, there will be desperate and sad people willing to take advantage of them.
Sadly, most of these people do this out of desperation and not because they want to be terrible people. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Either way, it’s essential to be on your guard and aware of scams going on in Italy so that you can prepare yourself and avoid them. You can read here for the most common scams in Italy.
36. Not Getting Travel Insurance
I don’t go anywhere without Travel Insurance. It’s so good to be protected from anything that might go wrong on your trip, and even if it all goes smoothly, the peace of mind is so nice to have! I use World Nomads, which has great rates and great coverage that protects you, your trip, and your belongings. You can check rates here.
37. Not Learning a few phrases of Italian
Lucky for us, many people in Italy speak English. In fact very good English, which makes our life easier. But Romans will always appreciate the effort we put into attempting to speak their language. And Italian is a beautiful language. Here are a few phrases you should know before going to Italy.
38. Not Talking to Locals
The best way to get to know a place is by getting to know the people who live there. Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals. Sit on a park bench, talk to the vendors at the markets, talk to your waiter. Don’t be shy!
39. Overscheduling Your Trip
While it’s important to book some tickets and tours for your trip to Italy, be sure to leave ample unscheduled time where you can wander the ancient streets and enjoy the scenery and people watching.
40. Not Going With the Flow
I have yet to go on a trip that went exactly as planned. There always seems to be some mishap or disaster that I need to work around. It’s not usually anyone’s fault, it’s just life and the unpredictable nature of travel. Try to roll with the punches. These mishaps will inevitably be part of your travel story and make your trip that much more memorable.
I hope this list of mistakes to avoid in Italy was helpful and will enable you to have an amazing trip to one of my favorite countries on Earth!