1. TIPPING IN ITALY
Tipping is not customary in Italy, and it can often be taken as an offense. Most bartenders and waiters earn a reasonable wage so they don’t rely entirely on tips. Of course most will not scoff at being tipped but it is generally not necessary unless the service was exceptional. I generally round up the bill to the nearest ten to avoid unnecessary coins in my pocket or having to wait for the change.
2. CASH IS KING
Having cash with you is the easiest method of payment in Italy. Most places do not accept card payments for a bill under €10 and credit cards are not widely accepted so it is always best to carry cash with you and small change when paying for coffees. Handing over a large bill will get you a frown.
3. BUY A TICKET BEFORE BOARDING PUBLIC TRANSPORT
So many times I have seen people board a bus and get fined for not having a ticket, and it is no real fault of their own as so many European cities you can buy a ticket on board the bus or tram from the driver. But in Italy you must have a ticket with you before you board or you will get a big fast nasty fine if your caught. The best thing to do is buy a couple of tickets and keep them in your wallet. They are only validated when you use them so they don’t expire so long after you’ve bought them, only once they are validated.
4. BUY YOUR COFFEE BEFORE GOING TO THE BAR
Most coffee bars in Italy require you to purchase your coffee, juice or snack from the cashier before going to the bar. You’ll be given a receipt once you have paid which you then present to the barrister as a sort of “token”. If you are unsure it’s always good to ask “Devo fare prima lo scontrino?” Which means “Do I have to get a receipt first?” Which leads me to number 5….
5. ALWAYS STAND TO DRINK YOUR COFFEE
It is more expensive to be served at a table for a coffee then if you stand and drink it at the bar. Handy tip if you are counting your pennies.
6.ALWAYS TAKE AND KEEP YOUR RECEIPT
Ever wondered why a waiter will thrust your receipt into your hands at a restaurant? It is for a reason! If you cannot produce a receipt for something you bought, showing you were charged and paid the tax on it, you and the store could be fined on the spot. My advice is to walk at least 100 meters from the restaurant or store with the receipt. After that, you can do anything with it you want.
7. DO NOT BUY FROM UNLICENSED VENDORS
If you’ve been to Italy you’ll know all about the touts and vendors that can be found on the busiest tourist streets. Typically these men are selling fake replica handbags on a white sheet on the floor or toys from cardboard boxes for 1 euro. It is against the law to buy from these men and if you get caught you could be fined as well as them. In fact they are so worried about getting caught that they have a look out that blows a whistle if a police officer heads their way and they grab the white sheet and run!
8. BE AWARE OF FREE GIFTS
Free roses in Rome and free bracelets in Milan, be aware of these guys trying ti give you “free” gifts for your friends/girlfriend. Not only are they not free but the men can be quite pushy sometimes. I had a guy thrush a rose into my hands for “free” then demand money from us all the time i was saying no thank you.
9. DON’T TOUCH THE PRODUCE
Open air markets in Italy are great to explore and get into the hustle and bustle of everyday local life, and they are great for picking up some cheap snacks for lunch or for long bus/train journeys. But vendors get quite annoyed if you touch the produce, so if you wish to purchase something you normally have to ask and they will bag it up for you with plastic gloves.
The same goes for supermarkets, there are plastic gloves provided in the vegetable and fruit departments to be used to handle the produce. If you don’t and you use your bare hands don’t be surprised if you get scowled at by a passing granny.
10. STANDING IN LONG QUEUES
While this isn’t a mistake you can avoid standing in long queues in peak travel times for museums and popular attractions by purchasing your tickets online in advance. Not only will this get you to the front of the queues but it might also save you some money!
Italy is a great country to visit and there is no shortage of beautiful places to visit or interesting things to see. However, there are a few things to know before you venture out into Italy’s cities and towns. Tourists frequently make small mistakes that can wreck their vacation because they don’t know any better and don’t do their research.
So if you want to order a coffee, intend to ride a train or pack shorts because you’re visiting Italy in the summer, be prepared by getting familiar with some of the local customs and rules.
Here are the top 10 mistakes tourists make when they visit Italy.
Boarding a Regional Train without Validating the Ticket
Tickets for regional trains, or any ticket that doesn’t have a specific time and assigned seat, needs to be validated (Frecce train tickets, which have assigned times and seats are among the exceptions). Regional train tickets can generally be used on any train in a two-month period, so validate your ticket before boarding.
All you need to do is find a validation machine; green and white in some stations and yellow in others. Push your ticket into the slot until you hear the stamp applied. This stamp will make your ticket good for up to six hours. Be warned that even tourists will get fined for not validating their tickets before boarding a train in Italy.
Ordering a Latte (When You Want a Coffee)
Latte is the Italian word for milk, so if you order a latte, especially outside tourist areas, you may end up with a glass of milk. If you want a coffee, head to a bar (which in Italy is not just a place to consume alcohol). Keep in mind that in many places you will pay extra for table service.
If you just want a quick coffee, do as the Italians do and stand at the bar. In restaurants, coffee (usually espresso) is normally served only after the meal (including dessert) is finished. Italians don’t drink coffee with their meals and they generally don’t drink cappuccino after noon, although you can still ask for one. Here are some helpful tips about how to order Italian coffee drinks.
Be advised you won’t get free refills on your soda or iced tea and usually your cold drinks won’t be served over ice.
Driving in the ZTL
The ZTL, zona traffic limitation or limited traffic zone, is off limits to drivers who don’t have a permit (which tourists aren’t eligible for). Most cities and towns have a ZTL, which may also be called a Pedestrian Zone. The Centro Storico is usually a limited traffic area.
Often a camera is posted at the entrance to a ZTL, taking photos of license plates as cars enter. It’s unlikely that you’ll be pulled over immediately but people have reported getting a ticket in the mail six months or a year later (often through your rental car company). Be on the lookout for speed cameras as you drive around Italy, as well.
Read more in Tips for Driving in Italy
Standing in Ticket Lines
During high season, people may stand in line for an hour or two just to buy tickets to get into one of Italy’s top sights or museums. These days it’s pretty easy to buy tickets for most places online, although it will require planning your itinerary in advance.
While you may not want to be tied down to a strict schedule there are some tickets you really should buy ahead of time. These are the Top Tickets to Buy in Advance.
Wearing Shorts When Visiting a Church
Italian cathedrals and churches are interesting to visit and many hold important works of art. You may find that most have signs posted asking visitors not to enter wearing shorts or with bare shoulders (for the most part, Europeans don’t wear shorts, at least not as frequently as Americans do).
Women can carry around a scarf to cover bare shoulders when wearing sleeveless tops. But many places, including the Vatican, will not admit people wearing shorts. So plan your dress to go with your sightseeing.
Relying Only on Credit Cards or Bringing Traveler’s Checks
In Italy, there are many places that still do not take credit cards and if you’re traveling with American Express you’ll find even fewer places to use it. Many small family-run restaurants and shops, bed and breakfast inns, and outdoor markets require cash payments. If you’re traveling outside the main tourist areas this will be even more likely. Y
our credit card may not work in machines such as the autostrada toll booth. It’s a good idea to have two credit cards so you can use one as back up and be sure to call your bank before you leave to tell them the dates you’ll be in Italy (also for your ATM card).
Traveler’s checks are rarely used for getting cash in Italy and if you do find a place to change them, you are likely to pay a fee. The best way to get cash is with your ATM card.
Over-Planning and Over-Scheduling
Italy does not run like clockwork so don’t expect everything to go smoothly, especially if you’re on a tight schedule. Leave some time for hanging out in a pizza or bar or going to a festival or special event you may stumble upon.
Visitors to Italy often find that the most memorable part of their trip was something they didn’t plan. Moving to a new city and new hotel every day is exhausting and eats up a lot of time that could be spent enjoying a place for several days and really getting to know it.
Overpacking or Traveling with a Heavy Suitcase
While your big wheeled suitcase may be great in places with smooth walkways and hotels with elevators, in Italy you won’t always find these things. Historic buildings may be remodeled to make beautiful accommodations but they often are not allowed to install an elevator. And unless you’re staying at 5-star hotels, it’s unlikely there will be someone to carry your bags.
Uneven cobblestone streets make dragging a suitcase difficult and if you’re going to Venice, chances are you’ll be crossing bridges. If you’re traveling by train, you’ll need to lift your bag on and off the train yourself.
Consider a lightweight bag (or two) that’s easy to carry.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
Trusting the GPS
While having a GPS for driving can be very helpful, it’s not a good idea to rely only on the GPS. It’s common in Italy to have several towns or villages (in different regions) with the same name. So take a look at your map and make sure you know which one you want.
Being the Victim of a Theft
As in any big city, you should take precautions against having your money or passport stolen. Rome and Florence are the places that tourists most often report thefts of items like purses, cameras, passports and money.
Keep a close eye on your belongings, don’t carry valuables in a pack on your back and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. Carry your passport in a place that’s difficult for a pick-pocket to access and don’t carry more cash in your purse or main wallet than you’ll need for the day.