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10 things you need to know when visiting Italy

Italy is a country of great beauty, great culture and most importantly, great gelato! Seeing a place with fresh, naïve eyes is often a brilliant way to soak up your surroundings and experience the wonderment that you may have left behind in your childhood years. However, it is wise not to go into it completely blind, thus we have compiled a list of the 10 things you need to know before visiting Italy so that your trip is as seamless as possible! Tipping is not required In fact, in the South of Italy, it is often considered offensive to leave one! There has been controversy recently regarding the fact that tourists may often be preyed upon for extra tipping whereas locals very rarely tip! It is important to know the difference between service or cover charge which is mandatory in many restaurants, and tipping, which is always voluntary and not customary in Italy at all. Coffee is cheaper at the bar In typical Italian restaurants, there is always a different price for drinks ordered and enjoyed at the bar, and drinks ordered to the table, so order your latte al banco (at the counter) with the rest of the locals! Although beware of the word latte as well – as latte means milk in Italian, so make sure you order a caffe latte! Be aware of riposo Riposo refers to the extended lunch hour, usually between noon and 3.30pm, that many businesses and stores respect, meaning that they are closed between these times. Not to be confused with a siesta (which you would expect when you are on a luxury holiday to Spain). Although it does vary, remember not to allocate souvenir buying to these times as you may be left disappointed! Get a train/bus ticket PRIOR to boarding In Italy, you must buy your ticket before boarding public transport. Though this seems simple enough, there are not always ticket machines at every stop and most ticket offices are closed on Sundays. You can buy tickets from most of the corner, tobacco shops and this should be done ahead of Sunday should you wish to travel on this day of rest to save yourself frantically rushing around looking for an open corner shop. Remember to validate your ticket (ie. Getting the date and time stamped on it to ensure it cannot be reused) before boarding if you want to avoid being fined. Book tickets for major attractions online or via your hotel This is particularly important to remember during high season where urban myth has it that people can queue up to two hours to buy tickets. Although you don’t need to outline an itinerary with military precision, it is worth thinking ahead a day or two if possible so that visiting some of the fascinating places in whichever city you are in, is as efficient and seamless as possible. Not all attractions have online ticket purchase available however many do, so it is worth speaking to your hotel if you are planning to visit a particular museum or site. You CAN drink from the water fountains Unless it specifically says it is unsafe to do so, drinking from fountains here is fine so take advantage! If you are on a city break to Venice for example, it is easier and lighter to keep hydrated through a water fountain compared to carrying around big bottles of water. And obviously, there is the added benefit of reducing plastic consumption. Therefore, wherever you go make sure everyone is sufficiently hydrated by taking in a few gulps from a water fountain! Do not touch things on market stalls There are a plethora of great markets in Italy, with delicious meats and cheeses to locally made arts and crafts, however, it is not a ‘touch and taste’ experience. You should ask before you touch anything, including food and clothing, and the stall owner will help you. They are usually very attentive so finding help won’t be an issue but it is considered rude to treat the produce as your own personal buffet, and vendors take pride in selecting the best produce for you so try not to pinpoint specific items and let them do the choosing! Cover shoulders and knees when visiting holy sites, such as churches If you plan on visiting St Peters Basilica whilst on a luxury holiday to Rome, or St Marks in Venice or any of the plethora of interesting religious sites around Italy then it is important to dress respectfully – no bare shoulders, knees or midriffs. If you are wandering in from a day of casual strolling, then it may be best to bring a scarf of a cardigan along that you can quickly use to cover up. Keep your wits about you Pickpocketing in Italy can be a problem, particularly if you are flaunting your expensive new camera or keeping your wallet in your back pocket! Make sure you keep an eye on your things and try to avoid carrying passports! Some simple tips to help reduce the likelihood of theft in Italy include having your bag in front of you in busy areas and wearing a money belt. Last, and perhaps most important on our list of 10 things you need to know before visiting Italy, is… How to spot authentic gelato When you go to Italy – you expect good gelato, in fact, you expect the best and you expect it everywhere! But beware the imposters! Whilst Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, it is churned at a slower rate and with less cream and eggs to create a denser delight than other frozen desserts. High-quality gelato is only good for a few days and is made via time-consuming and meticulously carried out process, so certain shops choose to buy in industrially produced gelato instead. So it’s worth knowing what the good stuff looks like so you can avoid the siren call of the fluorescently coloured mass produced stuff! The counterfeit gelato is usually the high-piled, brightly coloured versions which signal that they were created using an artificial mix. True gelato is usually a muted colour! Sarah Roberts is Director of Inspiring Travel Company. The Inspiring Travel Company, established in 1974, offers exceptional tailor-made luxury holidays and experiences to some of the most elegant and desirable destination across the globe. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blogin order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Sarah Roberts

Sarah Roberts is a Director of Inspiring Travel Company, part of the ITC Travel Group. The Inspiring Travel Company focus on building bespoke luxury holidays and experiences to some of the most incredible resorts, hotels and destinations across the globe. Sarah started working in the luxury Sports travel team before moving to ITC Travel Group’s Chester based travel agency Deva Travel. After three years, she progressed to Head of Sales at Inspiring Travel Company and then Director. She has travelled all over the world but includes Italy, Iceland, India, Bali, Vietnam, USA and Cambodia in her Top 10 destinations.

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  1. Also I’d like to tack a bit more on to the “Do not touch things” at market stalls advice as well. I’ve also found that picking up a magazine at a stall is a complete cultural no-no too. Though I don’t really get that one. How are you supposed to know about the content of the magazine if you can’t flick through the pages?

  2. I just wonder how common riposo is nowadays? In smaller, out of the way villages, especially in south Italy I can imagine that the staff would still shut-up shop around mid-day. But is it still the case in bigger towns? I would have thought that global chains with air-conditioning in their stores would just keep on trading throughout, sticking to their trading hours wherever they are in the world.

    It will be a sad day if the riposo disappears. I used to like the atmosphere as a village or town stirred itself and woke up for the late afternoon and evening trading session.

    1. Hi Elizabeth – I think you are right, larger chains are probably putting trading before traditional practices. One thing I would say, is that if you are finding a place that still does riposo compared to another that is not, then potentially, you know which one will give you the more authentic Italian experience.

  3. “Tipping is not required”. In fact, outside the USA, tipping isn’t required ANYWHERE! Seriously. You don’t need to tip anywhere inside the USA. The ridiculous tipping culture in the USA is insane. You need a degree in tipping to know when and how much. Someone told me anyone who touches your luggage needs to be tipped.

  4. I can’t believe that the tip on gelato is at number 10, last in the list. Authentic gelato is one of my main reasons for travelling to Italy or is it last because it is most important and everything else leads up to the gelato?

  5. I’m lucky in that I travel a lot for both work and leisure so I like to think that I am a fairly savvy traveller. Though when I read this I realised that there were a few things that I either had forgotten or just never knew.

    I would never have thought that it was safe to drink water from fountains so that’s a good tip. Bottled water is expensive and the world doesn’t really need any more waste plastic.

    I’d also forgotten about having to buy tickets before boarding on buses or trains in Italy. That could have been embarrassing.

    This is a very helpful format. Maybe it’s one that other A Luxury Travel Bloggers may like to use? There are a lot of places in the world and I’m thinking Africa, the Far East and Latin America where it would be handy to have some guidance on the cultural differences.

    1. Hi Lorraine, I’m glad you liked the blog, I’ll try and implement this format in other things I write. The water in the fountain tip i too find really useful. Saving plastic and saving money seems like a win- win.

  6. Needing a ticket before boarding a train is like in the UK, where it can also be difficult when counters are closed & machines decide to not work. It’s interesting that tickets can be bought in corner shops and baccy shops. I hadn’t realised that about tipping – good to know! I probably sound like a total stick in the mud, but I feel a bit offended when I’m expected to give one, especially as I’m on a budget and most places are already quite pricey when eating out. If staff were only paid in tips and received no actual wage then I’d understand, but that’s not the case. If I could afford to do so I’d tip those who do a wonderful job and make me feel welcome, but I find that’s actually quite rare too! As for the pickpockets, when I went to Barcelona I was warned of this as it’s known for being one of the worst places for tourists to have wallets and phones pinched. I think it’s wise to just be mindful wherever you are, and choose wisely when putting your valuables away in bags rather than pockets, zipped up and carried close to you where you can see it.

    A really good point too about being respectful at holy sites and covering up. I imagine there are a lot of tourists going in warmer weather walking in with their flip flops, shorts and strappy tops completely unaware. I would be mortified to make this mistake and offend anyone so it definitely pays to read up on the area first. Are there any signs to advise people of this before entering?

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