10 useful tips for your time to Italy
Wed Nov 2015
One of the best things about holidaying abroad is being able to appreciate cultural differences between the UK and overseas. Sometimes these differences are tiny, almost blink and you miss them moments that bare little impact on your experience of a place, but sometimes what is absolutely blindingly obvious to many, can flummox even the most well travelled amongst us. To make your time in Italy as smooth as possible, we’ve put together our insider tips of local habits to save you time, money and any unexpected moments!
1. Avoid ordering cappuccino with your meal or in general, after breakfast
Italians normally just drink water or wine with their meals. Other drinks are thought to alter the taste of food. Give it a try… it’s actually true!
Some may have beer or a fizzy drink to accompany pizza but that’s the main exception. Cappuccino is a coffee-based drink meant to be served only for breakfast, maybe with a croissant. At lunchtime, Italians will normally order an espresso, but only after their meal as a little pick me up before the afternoon.
2. Keep an eye on shop opening times
Shop opening times in Italy are rather different and it’s good to keep that in mind to avoid disappointment if you are planning to buy something before your departure. Opening times can be varied so we can’t be too specific but bakeries and grocery shops tend to open quite early, around 8 am and clothing and other miscellaneous shops usually open at 9-10 am. Almost every shop will then close for lunchtime, between 12-4 pm. Check each shop individually, some just close for a couple of hours, other stay shut for longer. Evening closure is usually late, at 7.30 pm.
3. Avoid peak season
Summer heat can be unbearable in Italy between June and August, especially in urban areas. Bare in mind that if you’re visiting art cities in the summer, this is particularly tiring and you’ll need more breaks to rest. High numbers of tourists will also increase queues in front of museums and monuments forcing you to stand under the burning sun for longer. There is always a risk of dehydration durin
g this season too so do make sure that you have a bottle of water in your bag. Overall, planning your travel outside peak season may give you more time, energy and freedom to appreciate these wonderful cities.
4. Cover up in churches
If you are planning to visit religious locations, remember that you might not be admitted inside if you are wearing sleeveless shirts or shorts. Even if it’s boiling hot, bring something to put on before you enter. Some churches offer scarves that you can use and leave when you exit but if you wear longer clothes you will avoid disappointment. This also applies to the Vatican.
5. Purchase your bus ticket beforehand
It is often not possible to buy tickets on local buses so it is always important to check how the ticket system works in the city you are visiting beforehand, or you may risk having to pay a penalty fare. Tickets can usually be purchased from tobacconists (tabaccaio), which have a sign with a big blue ‘T’ outside the shop.
6. Validate your train ticket before travelling
Train tickets need to be validated before boarding trains! Train stations do not have ticket barriers so you must remember to insert the ticket in to one of the machines which can be found at platforms or next to self-service ticket points. The machine will stamp the station name, time and date.
7. Meal times
Italians are quite strict when it comes to meal times. Lunch is served between 12.00 pm and 2.30 pm and dinner, between 7.00 pm and 23 pm. Outside of these hours restaurants do not serve food. If you get hungry, bars serve a good selection of panini and bakeries or street food shops will offer take away pizza slices with an infinite variety of toppings. As an alternative, a massive artisan gelato is always a good choice.
8. If the bill doesn’t come to you…
In restaurants you may observe that locals rarely pay their bill at the table. Instead, they usually go to the till when they are leaving and pay there. This also gives a bit more time to chat to the owner. If you would like to pay at the table, just ask a member of the staff and they will bring the bill to you.
9. Additional charges at bars and restaurants
Talking about restaurant bills, you might notice that a ‘coperto’ has been added to yours. The charge is usually one or two euros and this covers the service at the table. Similarly in bars, coffee will have a different price if you sit down or if you have it ‘al banco’, standing at the counter in front of the barman.
As service charges are included in restaurant bills, in Italy there is no habit of giving tips. However, people do sometimes leave the change for the staff if they particularly enjoyed the service. Do not feel obliged to leave tips because this is not a local custom.