As you may already know, Italy is a very popular tourist destination. Especially in summer, people from all over the world come to visit every corner of “the Boot”. Whether it’s to swim in the crystal clear waters of Sardinia, to go shopping in Milan, to wander around the Tuscan countryside and get lost in the streets of Florence or Pisa, to hike along the coast in Cinque Terre, to do a gondola cruise amongst the canals of Venice, or to explore the history and architecture of Rome, millions of people travel to Italy. Each country has its own culture and traditions, and exploring them is part of the beauty of travelling. However as Italian, I wanted to share with you a quick list of things I think you should know before you head over to Italy this summer. Disclaimer: yes a lot of them will be about food, we feel very strongly about our culinary culture. To ensure you’re super ready for your Italy trip, make sure to check out also these common Italy travel mistakes and how to avoid them.
Before you read on, make sure you have these 10 essentials for travelling in Italy ready for your trip!
- 1 10 things you need to know before you travel to Italy
- 1.1 If someone doesn’t speak English, raising your voice won’t make them understand.
- 1.2 A trip to the bar doesn’t always mean what you think it means.
- 1.3 A fork is the only acceptable utensil for eating pasta.
- 1.4 Don’t go looking for garlic bread. It doesn’t exist here.
- 1.5 Unless you’re happy with a glass of milk, do not order a latte.
- 1.6 Forget brunch, have a sweet breakfast followed by lunch instead.
- 1.7 Postpone your shopping till after 4pm.
- 1.8 If you’re visiting a beach destination, don’t go swimming after having eaten.
- 1.9 Any time before 7pm is not an acceptable dinner time.
- 1.10 Pepperoni does not mean the same thing in Italy.
10 things you need to know before you travel to Italy
If someone doesn’t speak English, raising your voice won’t make them understand.
Some Italians speak English, others don’t. Especially if you’re travelling to certain parts of Italy, don’t be surprised to find that the old lady that works at the local bakery doesn’t understand you. Now this might seem hard to believe, but raising your voice won’t make a difference. Instead, why don’t you embrace the Italian way of speaking and try some hand gestures, you will probably have a lot more luck being understood!
A trip to the bar doesn’t always mean what you think it means.
When I get to work in morning and tell my team I’m going to the bar to grab a coffee people laugh and ask if I can get them a mojito while I’m there. In Italy bars are magical places that you go to for breakfast in the morning, a quick lunch early afternoon, aperitif in the late afternoon and drinks after dinner. Especially in summer people gather and hang out at bars more. If you pay a visit to your local bar multiple times throughout the day you will find yourself making friends with other “regulars”.
A fork is the only acceptable utensil for eating pasta.
While we’re talking about food, let’s talk also about what you should be eating it with. Unless you’re under 10 years old and are really struggling with spaghetti, in which case we can allow you to cut them with a knife, the only utensil you should be using to eat pasta is a fork. Again, an Italian persons’ heart breaks every time you ask for a knife to cut your pasta, or even worst, a spoon!
Don’t go looking for garlic bread. It doesn’t exist here.
Don’t even get me started on the garlic bread. I don’t know where this misconception came from, but it is not an Italian thing. Every time I go food shopping in London and see the “Real Italian garlic bread” packages at Sainsbury’s, I just shake my head in sadness. Garlic bread does not exist in Italy. The closest thing you can get is probably an onion focaccia (and trust me, it’s even better than garlic bread)!
Unless you’re happy with a glass of milk, do not order a latte.
A latte doesn’t mean the same thing in Italy. Latte just means milk. Italy is far away from the world of Starbucks frappuccinos and pumpkin spiced lattes, the only acceptable forms of coffee here are espresso, macchiato or cappuccino. If you order a latte, you will get a glass of milk, nothing more.
Forget brunch, have a sweet breakfast followed by lunch instead.
In case you hadn’t realised by now, we like our food in Italy. Brunch isn’t a popular meal choice, why have only one meal when you could be having two? Instead of scouring Italian restaurants in search of avocado on toast, have a sweet pastry with espresso coffee for breakfast and a pasta a few hours later for lunch.
Postpone your shopping till after 4pm.
The post-lunch “riposino” is a sacred time of the day, especially in summer. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked around an Italian city any time between noon and 4pm, but it can get VERY hot. Italians know it, which is why this time of day after lunch is reserved as our daily break. Depending on where in Italy you are it is very likely that shops will be closed during these hours. Embrace it. Don’t try to fight it by heading out in the heat of the Italian sun, just to moan that the local supermarket round the corner from your AirBnb is closed. Go there after 4pm and you have better chances of finding it open.
If you’re visiting a beach destination, don’t go swimming after having eaten.
As Italian I recognize that this one is probably not medically accurate (or so my flatmate in her fifth year of medicine will have me believe). However we are taught from a very young age that you cannot go swimming in the sea whatsoever for at least two hours after you’ve eaten. Which probably contributes to the strict “riposino” hours, who would want to be out in the heat of the midday sun if you can’t even refresh yourself in the sea? So be careful if you choose to go swimming after lunch, as there are going to be less people around to save you if you get congestion.
Any time before 7pm is not an acceptable dinner time.
In total honesty, restaurants will probably still be closed, no point even trying. The day starts later in Italy, which means it also ends later, especially in summer when the days are longer. I usually have dinner around 8pm and my other Italian friends always ask what’s wrong with me. When travelling to Bali or Thailand I used to have huge breakfasts at the buffet in hotels, so I that I could then spend the whole day at the beach, skip lunch and the have an early dinner. I would never think of doing that in Italy, the food is so good, why would you even want to skip a meal?
Pepperoni does not mean the same thing in Italy.
Don’t order a pizza with pepperoni unless you really want to eat a pizza with peppers on it. Every region of Italy has different traditional foods, spice it up a little and make sure to try different foods everywhere you go!
There you go, you are now an expert on what to do and what not to do if you travel to Italy this summer! You might also want to check out this 14-day Italy itinerary to help you plan your holiday. If you’re travelling to Italy with children, check out these children books set in Italy that they can read before the trip! Most important of all, enjoy your holiday! Italy is the most beautiful country on Earth (totally unbiased opinion here) and despite the little things foreigners do that might bother us, us Italians are friendly people! What do you think? Have you ever noticed these behaviours in Italy? Or are you Italian and have other things you want to warn future travellers about? Let me know in the comments below!