Italy: Helpful tips for first time visitors
Dreaming of traveling to Europe? Italy truly is the best destination to get started with. When we hear the word Italy, so many amazing ideas come to mind. Roman gladiators, delicious pasta, and even that famous leaning tower of Pisa are some! Italy is a land full of surprises for the traveler and truly offers the most well-rounded of vacations. You can soak in thousands of years of history everywhere you walk. Admire priceless works of art in main squares and museums. And sample exquisite local specialties at its many outdoor cafes or family-owned restaurants.
I’ve been traveling extensively to Italy for over 20 years. I even had the opportunity to live and work there for a total of 11 consecutive years. My love for Italy is one that I love to share with others, so here are 5 helpful tips on how to make the most of your trip.
Tip #1: Pick the right time of year!
Italy always ranks among the top destinations in the world and everyone knows it. It can be super busy between April and October, so consider traveling there in the low season. Though it can be a little bit colder, traveling when there are less crowds equals less lines at famous attractions and museums and better pricing at hotels and on airfare. (Weather varies by location, but typically similar to Virginia with some warmer and colder spots here and there.)
Tip #2: Make reservations at major museums/attractions.
Everyone wants to visit the Vatican Museums with the Sistine Chapel. Or marvel at Michelangelo’s David in the Gallery of the Accademia. How about climbing to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Lines can be exhausting for these attractions and can cut into your time to visit other sites. If you book skip-the-line tickets online, you’ll walk right in and enjoy more time inside. Tickets often become available one or two months before your visit date.
Tip #3: Figure out your transportation before departing.
Italy is very well connected by trains, especially when visiting the larger cities or most common tourist attractions. Sometimes it’s best to rent a car if you want to visit some of the more charming towns located in gorgeous areas. You’ll want to drive through Chianti in Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. You’ll need an international driving license, and I don’t recommend driving in larger cities (as there are many restricted driving zones). Sometimes buses are a better option, too! Do your homework before you leave! Also make sure you research best options for getting to your hotel at the beginning and to the airport at the end (as taxis may not always be the best option).
Tip #4: Withdraw cash locally vs exchanging.
Check with your bank before traveling to make sure that you can withdraw cash with your ATM card overseas. Also ask how much you can withdraw per day. I find that the small rate the US bank charges is typically less than exchanging currency locally. This is a safer option as you can take out as much as you need every few days versus carrying so much cash with you. Keep your money in a safe place (money belts are great). Use your credit card whenever possible, understanding that you may not be able to do so for smaller purchases with small merchants.
Tip #5: Know where to eat and plan ahead!
Food is such an important part of travel and in Italy the variety of amazing restaurants will astound you. However, beware of tourist traps and restaurants that sell reheated frozen foods near major attractions and inside museums. There are amazing blog sites and useful lists online that offer great recommendations. Check those out before traveling and categorize them by neighborhood so you can organize your days accordingly. Make sure you try multiple gelato flavors in one cup (no extra charge). And when ordering pizza get one per person as it’s thin and not meant to be shared! Buon appetito!
And remember that there’s much more to Italy than just Rome, Florence and Venice (which are certainly must-see cities). Think about venturing out to some of those smaller towns in more remote areas! And make sure to engage in authentic experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime. Buon viaggio!