After the success of my original post "44 Tips for Traveling in Italy" (it has an incredible number of re-pins on Pinterest and it remains my most read post), I have decided to write a follow-up with some more things you should definitely be aware of before you travel to Italy.
Cash is King
Unlike in the U.S. most business in Italy still prefer you pay in cash. Many places won't even let you pay with card if the total is below a certain threshold and restaurants will not split a bill between cards. You will want to make an effort to always carry cash. There are ATMs everywhere so it isn't difficult to get euros. Also, you will get bonus points from Italians if you use your change or give exact change.
No Tipping (But Table/Cover Charge)
Generally, tipping for services or dining is still not expected or required. That said however, there is typically a table charge or "coperto" at many restaurants built into your bill. You do need to tip taxi drivers for large and heavy bags. When you do experience excellent service and want to show your appreciation, it is very nice to leave a couple euros.
Pick Your Gelato Wisely
Not all gelato is created equal and it definitely shouldn't cost more than 2 to 7 euros. You can read more of my tips here.
Cappuccini and Espressi Have Fixed Prices
Like baguettes in France, cappuccini and espressi are fundamental to Italian culture, and as such, Italians expect a certain level of quality at an accessible-to-all price point. So no matter where you are in Italy you will be able to find an espresso (standing at the bar) for 1 euro and a cappuccino (standing at the bar) for 1.20 euros. You will find some places with higher prices, but that is because they are price gouging near major attractions.
Pay First in Cafes
The ritual of drinking coffee in Italy is very different from our own cafe coffee culture. You will need to pay first and then present your receipt at the bar.
The Developing Cafe Culture
As I mentioned above, cafe coffee culture in Italy is very different than our own. It is fast and efficient. Coffee is consumed quickly (while standing at the bar) and then you go about your day. Things, however, are changing. In many of the big destinations like Florence and Rome you can now find American-esque coffee shops where you can get large coffees to go or sit on your laptop while sipping a cappuccino.
I swear Italians are made of steel. They seem completely unaffected by unseasonal weather. Even if temps soar in late April or early May, they remain committed to their scarves and even their puffy jackets! In general, Italians show less skin than Americans when it comes to clothing. While you can wear short shorts and tube tops, just know you are going to stand out. And don't forget, churches have clothing requirements for visiting (no shorts or shoulders showing for men and women, and women's skirts must come to the knee). You can see my packing examples here.
So Italians have Wifi (or wee fee as they call it), it just isn't great. Expect to have slow and spotty wifi, especially if you are in student housing or a rented apartment. Between the thick, historic walls and shared routers finding well-functioning high speed wifi is rare.
Late Night Dining
I really struggle with the culture of late night dining. In Florida we eat super early, but I can handle a 7 or even 7:30 pm dinnertime. Even this, however, is early in Italy. Expect to eat no earlier than 8 pm. Some places, especially in the larger cities, will open early for tourists.
Make a Reservation
Many restaurants are quite small and have limited seating. If you want to ensure you will get to try the place you've been eyeing, simply call ahead and make a reservation.
A Little Bit of Italian Goes a Long Way
If you want the locals to warm up to you, try the language. It is amazing how far "buongiorno," "grazie," "per favore," and "dove il bagno?" will get you. Even if you butcher it, they will appreciate the effort.
All The Steps
Traveling in Italy is a great workout! Expect to climb a lot of steps. Remember many of the buildings, hotels, and sites you will be visiting are very old and will not have elevators. Don't bring bags you cannot carry or lug up a flight of steps by yourself.
Having data abroad is a game changer. I advise purchasing it from an Italian carrier once you arrive. You can read more on how to do this here.
Trains remain the best way to get around Italy. You can find Italy's official train website here.
Remember "service" is a cultural concept
There is one thing that really bugs me when I read reviews of my favorite Italian restaurants. They usually say something like, "the food was amazing but the service was terrible." I always have to remind people visiting me that service is a cultural concept. What Italians define as good service, Americans might think is rude. For example, in Italy having the waiter constantly stopping by your table to check on you is considered invasive. Meals last a long time and should not be rushed. Instead of expecting to see your waiter, you simply need to signal your waiter when you need something or want the check. Finally, keep in mind that many restaurants are family-run, small, understaffed, and constantly dealing with rude tourists. You can find my favorite places to eat in Florence here and in Rome here.
Check Splitting isn't a thing
Asking to split the check is a sure fire way to experience bad service. This just isn't done in Italy and in Italian culture when a group dines out, the final amount is divided equally amongst everyone (no matter what you ordered... are you thinking of that Friends episode?). When the bill arrives, everyone throws in cash. Have I mentioned you should always have cash?
Line, what line?
You will not find a lot of lines in Italy. Not at the bar, not in the crowded bathroom, and definitely not at the airport. It can seem very chaotic and will probably drive you crazy (it definitely drives me crazy). Just remember to stay calm and dive in. My motto, if that Italian woman is going to push me out of the way in the bathroom, I can do the same! Just kidding, kind of. You will have to be a bit more aggressive. Don't wait for a line to form, because it won't!
And if you are studying abroad in Italy this year or semester, be sure to read my study abroad tips here!