Italy is renowned across the globe for its food, people, and culture. From Rome’s Colosseum to Pisa’s Leaning Tower of, well, Pisa, the country offers an abundance of things to do and sights to see. There really is no place quite like it. 

If you’ve not visited the country before, there are a few things you should know before you get packing and set off on your travels – otherwise, it could influence how much you enjoy your time visiting there. 

Want to know which areas are worth visiting, or find out more about the Italian way of life? Here are the five things I wish I’d known before visiting Italy for the first time. 

Forget the cities, visit the lakes

While Italy may have the home of fashion in Milan, the home of history in Rome, and the home of romance in Venice, it’s easy to overlook the stunning lakes and scenery it has, as well. Lake Garda and Lake Como in particular are well worth a visit, and offer a much more cultural insight into the Italian way of life than the hustle and bustle of the more major cities. 

Cash is king 

venice italy damiano baschiera
Photo by Damiano Baschiera.

If you’re used to paying for a loaf of bread and carton of milk with a contactless card, then you may be looked down on if you do the same in Italy. cash really is king, so make sure you have some on you if you don’t want to come across as annoying to shop vendors or waiters. 

That’s not to say Italy doesn’t take card anywhere – it does, it’s just  smaller shops and restaurant owners much prefer being paid in cash. The credit card fees they have to pay when you use your card abroad comes across as an inconvenience to them, so they’d rather avoid using the card machine if they can possibly help it. 

Don’t worry if you have no choice but to pay with a card though – just be wary that you could receive a loud Italian sigh in return. 

Late for a train? Don’t worry… too much

Italian trains are notorious for running slightly late or not at all – depending on whether there is a labor strike going on at the time or not. Despite this, they remain one of the best ways to get around the country and if you don’t have access to a car or a bus, you’ll have to put up with it. 

For the most part, they do often run on time, especially in the more major stations. Just saying don’t go turning up late for your train each time as, chances are, you’ll probably miss it altogether. 

Italy stays out late

If you come across an Italian restaurant which looks completely empty at dinner, don’t worry. Italians tend to eat a lot later than many other places, and their dinner hour begins at more like 8 pm in most restaurants. In fact, restaurants in some of the more major cities don’t even start to get busy until around 9 pm.

You can still eat out earlier if you want to though – just bear it in mind when making sightseeing plans, and don’t be put off by restaurants being emptier at the time you want to eat. 

italy travel tips lugwig thalheimer
Photo Ludwig Thalheimer.

Italian waiters aren’t ignoring you

It’s also important to mention that Italian waiters act a little differently to waiters in many other countries. Waiters tend to have a reputation for not really leaving you alone while you eat in Britain and the United States, constantly checking in on you to see how the food is and whether they can bring you anything else to eat or drink.

Italian waiters, on the other hand, leave you alone for most of the meal and only really talk to you when taking your order or delivering your food. This isn’t done out of rudeness – it’s simply part of the custom. Waiters in Italy are taught to leave customers alone to enjoy their meals and after-dinner conversation for as long as they want. They won’t even ask if you’d like the bill to free up space in the restaurant – it’ll be up to you to ask them. 

Italy is a wonderful country to visit, with a plethora of fantastic things to do and stunning sights to see. However, before you set off, make sure to definitively plan your visit and bring some cash along with you. Otherwise, you could encounter some fairly grumpy Italians while you’re there. 

What have you learned about traveling to Italy?

Header image by Oleksandr Zabin.