🇮🇹 Planning A Trip to Italy: 11 Practical Things To Know

Colorful houses on a mountain cliff by the ocean.

Receiving over 50 million tourists last year in 2023, Italy is one of the world’s most popular destinations that is known for its historic landmarks, globally celebrated cuisine, and beautiful coastal villages.

Having spent a memorable two weeks in Italy, I share must-know travel tips that are especially useful for first-time visitors.

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1. Best Places To Visit in Italy

Italy has incredible places to visit ranging from historical cities to stunning coastal villages.

Below are Italy’s most popular destinations and the top things to see and do in each location.

Best Italian Cities

Italian cities are known to have world-famous historical and architectural attractions as well as bustling city centers lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants.

📍 Milan

Milan is one of Italy’s big cities and is known as the premier fashion capital of the world.

It’s home to one of the world’s most famous artworks, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and the iconic Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano). You can visit both attractions and increase your knowledge of them with a highly-rated guided tour.

The exterior view of an elaborate, white cathedral.
The Duomo di Milano.

📍 Venice

Venice is a city composed of over 100 small islands and is famous for its intricate network of canals, with the Grand Canal being the most famous.

Venice’s main attractions include:

  • The architectural masterpiece, St. Mark’s Basilica
  • The historically significant Doge’s Palace
  • The iconic Rialto Bridge
  • Riding a Venetian gondola

See how to spend an efficient day in Venice.

A woman holding a cup with red-orange liquid standing by a small, colorful canal.
A small canal in Venice.

📍 Florence

Florence is a beautiful city known as the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Its major attractions are:

  • The world-famous Uffizi Gallery
  • The architectural marvel, Duomo di Firenze
  • The Accademia Gallery which hosts Michelangelo’s David. You can learn about these famous art pieces with an expert.

Florence is located in the region of Tuscany, which is known for its beautiful landscapes and wine production excellence. Going wine tasting is one of the best things to do there (I went on this great experience).

A blue sky with an orange-roof skyline and a big dome sticking out.
Panoramic view of Florence.

See how to spend three days in Florence.

📍 Rome

Rome is Italy’s largest city and also has major historical and cultural significance. Rome’s top tourist attractions are:

  • The iconic Colosseum (you need special access to see the Colosseum’s arena where the gladiators fought)
  • The famous Trevi Fountain
  • The well-known Spanish Steps.
A woman sitting in front of a fountain surrounded by marble sculptures.
Trevi Fountain in Rome.

📍 Vatican City

Vatican City is the world’s smallest country. Although not an Italian city, it’s easily accessible from Italy because it’s surrounded by Rome.

The Vatican City has the famous Sistine Chapel and over 50 other Vatican museums. I found that visiting the Sistine Chapel was significantly enhanced with a knowledgeable guide.

You don’t need your passport to enter Vatican City as it has an open-border policy with Italy.

🍀 My Take on Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and the Vatican City

I visited all four major cities and the Vatican City and found each to be a unique experience.

  • I recommend Milan to shopping enthusiasts, but I otherwise wouldn’t stay very long there.
  • Venice, with its many canals, was the most unique city out of the ones listed above. I enjoyed the iconic gondola ride more than I expected.
  • Florence is a charming place that can be visited in two or three days.
  • Rome was one of my favorite places because it has the most things to do, so you can stay there the longest without getting bored.
  • One of my favorite tours was the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City. It was educational and eye-opening.

One of the most spectacular things about Italian cities is their historical significance, so many of their attractions are particularly enhanced with guided tours. They also tend to have long lines, so skip-the-line tickets are sometimes worth it.

Best Italian Places With Nature

Italy boasts many places with stunning nature. These areas are known for their stunning coastlines, spectacular lakes, and breathtaking mountains.

📍 The Italian Alps

The Italian Alps in Northern Italy are known for their breathtaking mountain peaks and outdoor activities, particularly skiing, hiking, snowboarding, and rock climbing.

The Dolomites, a stunning mountain range, is one of the most popular areas to visit.

📍 Lake Como

Lake Como is Italy’s most popular lakeshore and its main sights are the scenic towns and villages surrounding it. Varenna and Bellagio are two of the most well-known towns.

See how to take a day trip to Lake Como.

Colorful buildings near the shore of a blue lake.
Lake Como. (Photo by my friend, Nami Sumida.)

Further east, Lake Garda is the country’s second most popular lakeshore and Italy’s largest lake. It’s a great option for visitors who enjoy water activities (e.g., windsurfing, kayaking, sailing) and outdoor activities (e.g., hiking, biking).

📍 Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of five picturesque villages perched on dramatic mountain cliffs.

One of the best ways to explore Cinque Terre is by hiking through the villages.

Colorful houses on a mountain cliff sticking out into the ocean.
Vernazza in Cinque Terre.

If you’re taking the train from Cinque Terre to Florence, you can get off at Pisa S. Rossore train station for a quick stop to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

📍 Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast is world-famous for its spectacular coastal landscapes that offer some of the most beautiful views in the world.

The picturesque small towns, particularly Amalfi Town, Positano, and Ravello, are the top attractions in this area.

🍀 My Take on Lake Como and Cinque Terre

I visited Lake Como and Cinque Terre during my Italy trip and enjoyed them more than the large cities because of the stunning views. 

Hiking through Cinque Terre was the best experience of my trip because of the breathtaking views and natural landscape. It’s simply a beautiful place.

2. When To Visit Italy

Italy generally experiences a Mediterranean climate, which is characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters.

☀️ Best Time To Visit Italy

The best time to visit Italy is during the spring and fall seasons (i.e., the shoulder seasons).

  • The spring season, which runs from March to June, has pleasant, cool temperatures ranging from 46 °F to 79 °F. There will be fewer crowds and Italy’s picturesque, natural areas will be lush.
  • The fall season, which runs from September to October, is another popular time to visit. The weather is pleasant and cool (45 °F to 80 °F). There’s an increase in rainfall in the later months, but you’ll still get sunny days in between.

🍃 Italy’s Seasons

Italy has four seasons. Here’s a quick overview of its seasons:

🌱 SpringMar-Jun45-79 °F
☀️ SummerJul-Aug63-90 °F
🍁 FallSep-Oct45-80 °F
❄️ WinterNov-Feb32-45 °F
Italy’s Four Seasons

Here are some things to keep in mind about the seasons and climate in Italy:

  • The summer season is the peak season where you’ll experience warmer temperatures and big crowds. Coastal areas, lakeshores, and beach destinations are extremely popular during this time.
  • The winter season is the low season. This is a good time to get the best deals and experience Italy with a more authentic atmosphere as there are significantly fewer tourists. Parts of Northern Italy might experience some snow during the winter months.

🍀 My Experience With Italy’s Weather

I traveled to Italy in May during the spring season and experienced a mix of cool, sunny weather with a few intermittent rain showers that didn’t alter my plans.

During my two-week trip, I wore everything from a puff jacket to t-shirts.

A woman sitting in front of a large lake with a mountain in the background.
Wearing a puff jacket in May in Italy.

3. How Long To Spend in Italy

Italy is an elongated country with diverse regions where visitors typically spend an extended 10 to 21 days traveling.

🗓️ How Many Days Do You Need in Italy?

First-time visitors should aim to spend one to two weeks in Italy to see its major cities, iconic historical sites, and coastal villages.

  • With one week in Italy, you’ll mainly be able to visit some cities and their city center highlights. Rome, Florence, and Venice are typically good cities to see on your first trip.
  • With two weeks in Italy, you’ll be able to experience several of Italy’s diverse landscapes (e.g., modern cities like Milan, historic cities like Florence, lakeshores like Lake Como, and coastal areas like Almafi Coast).

Here’s how to spend seven to ten days in Northern Italy.

  • With three weeks or more in Italy, you’ll have enough time to thoroughly explore each region of the country without running out of things to see and do.

🍀 How Long I Stayed in Italy

I spent two weeks in Italy visiting eight areas in the northern and central regions.

Having now done the trip, I think I could have visited at least one area in Southern Italy during that timeframe. That said, spending that much time in Northern Italy meant that I was able to check out less touristy places like this rose garden in Florence:

A view from up a hill with lots of gardens.
Rose Garden in Florence. (Photo by my friend, Nami Sumida.)

4. Entry Requirements for Italy

The entry requirement for Italy is straightforward for US citizens.

🛃 Italy’s Visa and Passport Requirements

A tourist visa is not required for United States citizens visiting Italy for up to 90 days.

Starting in 2025, United States travelers will need to meet a new travel authorization requirement called ETIAS to enter Italy.

Also, the US government recommends that your passport be valid for 6 months from the start of your Italy trip so that you don’t have any issues getting in.

🍀 My Experience Entering Italy

Being an American citizen comes with the privilege of holding one of the world’s most powerful passports, so I had no issues flying into Milan, Italy.

5. Budgeting and Cash in Italy

Italy is a semi-expensive tourist destination for Europe.

💰 Expected Budget in Italy

Here’s approximately how much you can expect to spend when visiting Italy:

Travel StyleBudget per Day
Budget Travelers$70
Mid-Range Budget Travelers$150
Expected Daily Budget for Italy

🏧 Do You Need Cash In Italy?

Italy has a good credit card infrastructure and major credit cards are widely accepted. The only exception is American Express, which is not accepted everywhere.

There will be a few instances where you’ll need cash for smaller towns and businesses.

Tipping is not mandatory nor expected in Italy, but it’s appreciated. Note that many Italian restaurants will have a cover charge (called “coperto”) of about $2 per person.

💵 Are US Dollars Accepted in Italy?

Italy’s local currency is the euro (EUR). The US dollar is not widely accepted, so make sure to exchange currencies.

The exchange rate was $1 USD = €0.92 at the time of writing.

🍀 My Italy Trip’s Budget

I share all my travel expenses and credit card usage in this Italy budget breakdown.

I was able to use my Visa credit card in most places in Italy with a few exceptions, such as small cafes. My most expensive cash purchase was my gondola ride in Venice.

A woman standing on a boat in a narrow canal with colorful buildings surrounding it.
Standing on a gondola in Venice.

6. How To Get Around in Italy

You can easily travel around Italy without needing to rent a car.

✈️ Flying Into Italy

Italy has several international airports to fly into and the major ones are:

Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO)RomeCentral Italy
Malpensa Airport (MXP)MilanNorthern Italy
Marco Polo Airport (VCE)VeniceNorthern Italy
Naples International Airport (NAP)NaplesSouthern Italy
Catania–Fontanarossa Airport (CTA)SicilySouthern Italy
Italy’s International Airports

Once you land in Italy, there are several common ways to get around the country.

🚆 Option 1: Italy’s Trains

Italy has a well-maintained train system primarily operated by Trenitalia that will conveniently get you to many places around the country.

  • High-speed trains serve major cities throughout Italy and run on their own set of train tracks.
  • Regional trains are much slower trains, but will reach almost any part of the country.

You can buy train tickets in person or online. I found buying train tickets on Trenitalia’s website easy and convenient. Some visitors also seem to have issues validating their physical tickets when bought in person, so I recommend buying train tickets online.

🚌 Option 2: Bus

Italy doesn’t have a national bus system that covers the entire country, but it has multiple regional buses that will take you to smaller areas not easily accessible by train.

Many of these buses will be difficult to research online as their websites are often not in English.

🚇 Option 3: Metro

Major cities like Milan and Rome have extensive public transportation to get around.

For updated metro timetables and fares, here are Milan’s and Rome’s official websites.

🚖 Option 4: Taxi and Uber

To get around a city or town, taxis and ridesharing apps like Uber are available in major destinations in Italy.

🚙 Option 5: Rental Car

You can rent a car in Italy if you want to take an off-the-beaten-path road trip. You need an International Driver’s License to drive in Italy.

Keep in mind that driving in cities can be hectic and parking can be difficult. In some places, like Cinque Terre, driving is not recommended.

👟 Option 6: Walking

Like many European cities, walking is a great way to get around cities and towns in Italy as there are many pedestrian-friendly streets.

Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll likely be on your feet for hours.

🍀 How I Got Around Italy

I relied on Trenitalia’s trains to travel around Italy and found their high-speed trains convenient and easy to navigate. The train rides were often smooth and scenic.

The only other transportation I took was a ferry in Lake Como, and a bus and metro in Rome and Milan. All of them were reliable.

I recommend downloading WhatsApp to make it easier to get around Italy. Many places (e.g., restaurants for reservations, hotel concierges, tour guides) use it to communicate.

7. How To Stay Safe in Italy

Here are safety tips to keep in mind when traveling to Italy.

⚠️ Is Italy Safe to Visit?

Italy is considered a safe country to visit. The most common crime against tourists in Italy is petty theft such as pickpocketing and scams. Violence against tourists is rare.

Italy has a travel advisory level of 2 per the US Department of State and is ranked #34 out of 163 safest countries by the Global Peace Index (for reference, the United States is ranked #131).

🌹 Common Scams in Italy

Tourist traps and scams are unfortunately common in Italy. Here are some scams to watch out for:

  • The rose scam involves the scammer handing your travel companion (usually a woman) a flower or rose and then demanding payment for it. Make sure not to accept any flowers from strangers.
  • Similarly, the bracelet scam involves the scammer tying a “lucky” bracelet around your wrist and then demanding payment for it. Make sure not to take any “gifts” from anyone.
  • Many popular tourist areas will also sell overpriced goods (e.g., jewelry, artwork) that are not authentic. Aim to buy these sorts of bigger purchases from established shops.
  • The ruined painting scam involves the scammer putting printed paintings on the sidewalks and then demanding payment if you step and “ruin” them, so avoid stepping on any street art.

💧 Is Tap Water Safe To Drink in Italy?

Italy’s tap water is safe to drink and you’ll see that cities have numerous water fountains available everywhere.

Decorative fountains and fountains with the sign “acqua non potabile” have water that is not safe to drink.

I found that Italy’s tap water is refreshing and often cold, so I carried around my insulated, reusable water bottle. I sometimes couldn’t tell if a fountain was a drinking fountain, so as a general rule of thumb, I tried to observe if any locals were using it and then followed suit.

A woman holding out her water bottle in front of a decorated water fountain.
Using a water fountain in Rome.

🦟 Does Italy Have Mosquitoes?

Italy has some disease-carrying mosquitoes, especially during the summer months, so protect yourself as best as you can.

It’s a good idea to pack insect repellent. I tend to get bitten and I find that the lotion works better than the spray alternative (per the CDC: “DEET offers the best protection against mosquito bites.”).

🍀 My Safety Tips for Italy

Italy is where I experienced the highest number of scammers, so make sure to be alert and skeptical of people approaching you.

  • In Milan, while leaving my hotel unit, a man said he was locked out of his unit and asked for money to help him get a locksmith. Another scammer managed to put a bracelet on me and when I refused to pay, he became irritated and walked away.
  • In Rome, several scammers tried to hand my travel companion and me a rose. We also saw many scammers pretending to sell genuine paintings that were just printed copies.
  • In Venice, many locals were walking around the popular St. Mark’s Square trying to sell unofficial tour guides and it’s unclear whether they’re legitimate.

Italy also offers many guided tours. Make sure to book tours with legitimate platforms like Viator.

8. Language Barrier in Italy

Italy’s official language is Italian.

🗣️ Is English Common in Italy?

Italy is only English-friendly in tourist areas, but even then, it’s not as English-friendly as some may expect.

About 30% of Italy’s population speaks English, which is probably lower than you would expect for such a popular destination. Most locals living in non-tourist areas do not speak any English.

Here are some common Italian greetings to know while visiting Italy:

Common Word or PhraseEnglish Translation
GrazieThank you
PregoYou’re welcome
English Translation for Common Italian Phrases

🍀 Traveling Italy With Just English

It was harder to navigate Italy than I expected with just knowing English.

Smaller cities, like Modena and Parma, had several restaurants where the staff didn’t speak any English, so I used Google Translate and images to get by. I still ended up ordering the wrong food item sometimes.

9. Cultural Differences in Italy

The Italian culture has been influenced by a combination of historical, artistic, religious, and regional factors.

🍝 Cultural Norms in Italy

Here are a few cultural norms and Italian etiquette to keep in mind when visiting:

  • Italians eat at much later times compared to Americans. Lunch is considered the main meal of the day and usually starts at 1 pm. Dinner tends to start at 9 pm and you’ll find that many restaurants don’t open for dinner until as late as 7 pm.

One of the most important things I learned in Italy is that there’s always a long wait for good restaurants in big cities (e.g., Milan, Florence). Make sure to make restaurant reservations or you might have to wait for hours or eat at a touristy restaurant with higher prices.

  • Italians feel more comfortable standing closer together than Americans do. When talking or walking by a local, don’t be surprised if a local is closer than you expect.
  • Bargaining is not as common as you would expect from a tourist country like Italy. When you go shopping, even at markets, prices are generally fixed.
  • Lines are less orderly compared to lines found in America and especially in Asia. Don’t be surprised if you need to jostle a bit to keep your place in line.

🍀 My Experience With Italy’s Culture

I experienced most of the cultural differences mentioned above while in Italy:

  • I had to adjust my eating schedule to a later time and found myself snacking a lot between lunch and dinner. Thankfully, Italy has an abundance of delicious snacks, including gelato and prosciutto.
  • When hiking in Cinque Terre and walking around the major crowded city areas, I noticed that locals weren’t afraid to press past me.
  • While waiting to board transportation, there was rarely a clear line and many people would just squeeze themselves to the front.

10. Italian Food To Eat

Italian food is globally known and loved. Visitors joke that you should expect to gain a few pounds when visiting Italy.

Here are some Italian dishes you shouldn’t miss:

  • No Italy trip is complete without eating a few cones of gelato. Whereas gelato and ice cream might be similar in some countries, gelato is better tasting and silkier in Italy.

Look up highly-rated gelato shops at any destination and you’ll be able to find a few excellent ones. Some shops serve unique flavors.

Two people holding gelatos while taking a selfie.
Eating a lot of gelatos in Italy.
  • Pasta is, of course, a must-eat in Italy. Different places specialize in different dishes: Rome is known for “Cacio e Pepe”, Florence is known for “Pappardelle al Cinghiale” and Amalfi Coast is known for “Scialataielli ai Frutti di Mare”.

You can also take a pasta-making class in Italy, as I did in Florence, where chefs teach you the basics of making traditional pasta that you can replicate at home.

  • It’s an Italian tradition to wake up to cappuccino in the morning and have a strong expresso after meals. Coffee in Italy is very affordable compared to a cup in the United States.
  • Prosciutto and mozzarella originated in Italy and you can eat them as snacks, in sandwiches, or in other dishes.
A woman sitting in front of a plate with of prosciutto with the walls decorated with wine bottles.
Enjoying prosciutto near the Boboli Gardens.
  • Italy is a wine-producing leader, and many regions are known to produce their local wine. Ask for the house wine at restaurants to try local wine.
  • Pizza originated from Naples in Southern Italy and Italian pizza focuses on quality, fresh ingredients with fewer toppings.

The Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy is known for its culinary prowess and has some of the best restaurants in the world. I visited Parma and Modena primarily to eat there.

11. DIY vs. Guided Trip in Italy

Given that Italy is one of the most visited destinations in the world, almost everything in Italy can be done with an organized tour.

Here is my advice on independently planning your own trip to Italy vs. traveling with a tour company:

🚐 Entire Italy Trip: DIY vs. Guided

Italy’s major destinations are incredibly easy to get to thanks to the country’s train system. I recommend planning a high-level itinerary and booking your own train tickets to travel around the country.

Booking your entire trip with an organized tour is convenient, but it’s a lot more limiting and expensive.

I did an Italy itinerary similar to this one.

☀️ Day Trips in Italy: DIY vs. Guided

Once you’re in an Italian city or town, consider booking a day trip with a tour if you want to see the countryside or be on the water that requires vehicle transportation. Transportation to these places can be more challenging on your own.

For example, you’ll need transportation to the Tuscan countryside if you’re staying in Florence. I booked this excellent wine-tasting tour that provided bus transportation to get out of the city for a day.

A woman holding a glass of red wine against a field of grapes.
Wine-tasting tour in Florence.

☀️ Attractions in Italy: DIY vs. Guided

Almost all popular attractions in Italy have guided tours and the major ones will have skip-the-line tickets for those unwilling to wait long.

A lot of what makes Italy’s attractions interesting is their historical and cultural background, so I recommend guides for attractions that aren’t nature-based.

For example, I wouldn’t recommend doing a hiking tour of Cinque Terre (you can do it on your own), but I would recommend doing a tour of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and Accademia Gallery in Florence.

Italy Trip Planner

To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planner below and use it as a starting point. The planner has country-specific travel information, an itinerary, a packing list, and a map with key places pinned.

The trip planner is built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning (I genuinely love this tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Italy trip planner.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below.

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