this is a guide with some practical information to plan your trip to Italy!
During my trip to the States, I realised that there are many things that we take for granted but are different in other countries. This made me think about what’s different here in Italy and what can be confusing for a foreigner.
If you have never been to Italy, here are a few practical tips that may help you along the way.
While in other countries taxes may not be included, in Italy the price you see on the tag is the price you have to pay. Taxes are already included, so if some items seem more expensive than in your country, this may be the reason.
For the foreigners who come from the non-European areas, it’s available the Tax-Free or Tax Refund service, which allows you to get back the 12-13% of the final price. This applies to everything you buy and bring home with you, but not for the products you use on the spot. If you are interested (and I bet you are!) it’s better to ask the shopkeeper first if the service is available in his shop. To get back your money, you need to show the documentation at a specific desk at the airport before you leave.
Make sure the airport you’re leaving from has this kind of service! Usually, it’s available in big international airports like Milan Malpensa and Rome Fiumicino.
Eating (what and where)
There are a lot of different places where you can enjoy Italian food, and they’re not all called “restaurant”. You can find osterie, trattorie, birrerie, enoteche and so on.
If breakfast is not included in your hotel package, you can have a tipical Italian breakfast in bars. You can find bars an café of different levels, but they all serve brioches, if you want a sweet, and focaccia, if you prefer something savoury. Beware, typical Italian breakfast doesn’t include eggs, sausages, bagels, bacon… it’s just coffee or cappuccino (or marocchino in some parts of Northern Italy), and brioche or a focaccina.
For what concerns lunch and dinner, there are many different solutions. The term Ristorante is quite generic, but traditional restaurants tend to be a little more expensive than other places. The terms Osteria and Trattoria usually refer to more familiar and cozy places, which serve local food at a moderate price. The Birreria is a pub, where the main drink is beer, and you can eat burgers and sandwiches (our typical panino), sometimes first courses, like pasta or gnocchi, and crepes. The Enoteche used to be places to taste and buy wine; today, however, most of them have a kitchen and works like restaurants with particular attention to wine pairing with food.
What’s valid for shopping, it’s true for food too: taxes are included in the price you see on the menu.
While in other countries it’s common to leave a tip, it’s something we don’t do in Italy. What I mean is that it’s not expected, but it’s well accepted if you find the service is particularly good. Obviously, it’s something smart to do if you think of coming back to the same place! For what concerns the amount, there isn’t a fixed percentage. You can leave tips between one or five euros, but usually, it’s the change.
In some cases, you may find an entry called coperto in your bill. Coperto literally means your sitting place, with a napkin, cutlery, glasses and plates. Actually, it’s the payment for the service. Usually, it’s specified in the menu and it’s between one and three euros, rarely it is the 10% of the final bill.
As in many countries, here in Italy, there is plenty of different solution for spending the night:
- Hotel (albergo): you can find hotels from one to five luxury stars, with different prices due to different services. It’s pretty normal to find rooms with private bathroom from three stars upwards, but you can often find them in two and even one stars hotels too. Unless you stay in a luxurious hotel, it’s not common to find porterage, so you will have to look after your luggage. Car-parking attendants are not common too, so if you plan to go by car and you don’t want to park it out on the road, make sure the hotel has a private parking lot.
- Agriturismo: this kind of structure is usually associated with farms, that’s why it’s situated in the country. Agriturismi are family run activities and have a limited number of rooms. In their restaurants, they offer typical food prepared with local products both to their guests and to outers.
- Bed and breakfast: this formula is pretty well known all over the world. B&Bs are run by families who offer rooms and breakfast in their own homes. Some rooms may have a private bathroom, but if it’s a must have for you, it’s better to ask first. B&B are perfect to mix with locals.
- Hostel (ostello): usually prefered by students or backpackers, hostels are more spartan but cheaper than other solutions. Here you will find big dormitories and shared bathrooms.
- Camping ground (campeggio): campgrounds are available both for tents and trailers, especially in the country or near the sea.
Going around in Italy
Since Italy is a relatively small country, it’s not necessary to move from one place to another with planes, unless you’re going from Milan to Palermo. The two most important means of transport for medium-long trips are cars and trains.
If you want to rent a car, the average price for a week goes from 400 to 500 euros. The most popular rental shops are Hertz, Europecar, Maggiore and Avis.
There’s a toll to pay for highways and the price can vary depending on the segment.
For what concerns fuels, each kind has an associated colour at filling stations: green is for gasoline, and black is for diesel. Filling stations with GPL are less frequent, even if it’s becoming more and more widespread, and it’s even more difficult to find natural gas filling stations.
Parking is not a problem in the country or small towns, while can be more difficult and expensive in big cities like Milan, Rome or Genova. Free parking is signed with white stripes, while the blue ones are pay and display parking. Sometimes, free parking can be time-sensitive. Whenever you leave your car, be sure to check the signs to see if there’s a time limit.
While renting a car can be a good solution to go around the country if you want to move from town to town, trains can be as good, and you won’t have the parking issue. There are three kinds of trains:
- Freccia Rossa and Italo are high-speed trains between the most important cities. You can buy the tickets online, and I’d suggest to book them in advance to get a good price.
- Freccia Argento and Intercity trains connect all the principal cities with more halfway stops than Freccia Rossa and Italo. You can buy tickets at railway stations. You’ll need to set a day and time for departure and your seat will be reserved.
- Regionali are local trains that stop at every station and connect villages and smaller cities with the most important junctions. This kind of train is slower but very cheap. You can buy tickets at the railway stations. Remember to validate them before you get on the train. The seat is not assigned.
Italian trains don’t have a luggage carriage. Each passenger travels with his luggage stored in dedicated places near the seating.
These are basic information. if there’s something else you need or would like to know, ask in the comments and we’ll try to answer as soon and as thoroughly as possible!