Top Tips and Suggestions for Traveling in Italy

Guest Post By: Karen Mills

Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyWhether traveling in Italy for the first time, or a return visit, there are some important things to remember that can make your travel experience a little less stressful.  These things aren’t always easily remembered or recognized if this is your first trip.  It is the little differences in processes, procedures, and culture that can make things uncomfortable if you aren’t aware.

1.            Learn some Italian words.  There are many English speaking Italians, and generally the language barrier is not a problem if you are in the larger cities.  Traveling to small towns can prove to be more of a challenge when it comes to language.  Italians are friendly, generous, and welcoming so a few words go a long way.  Take the time to learn “please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, and Where is the bathroom?” at a minimum.

2.            When you go into a bar (this is a coffee shop, sandwich shop or cocktails) in Italy, always pay first before you order.  Take your receipt to the counter for ordering.  Remember that the prices are different if you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar.  It costs more to sit down, even if you order at the bar and take it to a table.

3.            Most bars have restrooms, but they are for customers only.  Schedule these bathroom breaks around your coffee breaks to insure you are comfortable while you are sightseeing.

4.            When using the trains in Italy, Don’t forget to stamp your ticket before boarding the train.  There are bright yellow boxes that look like time card stamps located at the front of each track.  Insert your ticket to be stamped with the date and time.  This is true for all tickets that do not have an assigned seat, so the regional trains.Florence Italy

5.            Carry a scarf or shawl in your bag to wrap around your shoulders when you enter the churches.  In the summer if you have on shorts, or a short skirt or bare shoulders, entrance might be denied, unless you have something to cover.

6.            Remember that service in restaurants in Italy is different than in the USA.  It is more relaxed, and you must always ask for the check (Il conto, per favore!).   If you are in a hurry, do not go into a sit down restaurant.  In Italy, meal time is almost sacred and the kitchens and wait staff are not prepared to accommodate you in a short time frame.

7.            Sandwiches can be enjoyed in bars quickly if necessary, but won’t be available on restaurant menus.  Italians don’t eat butter with their bread, nor do they pour oil on plates and dip the bread into it……this is an American thing.  They will accommodate you if you ask for it, but it is not their custom.  Salads are served at the end of the meal.  House wines are available in almost all restaurants and are usually much less expensive, but delicious.  I recommend you try them!  Three courses are customary in Italy, but not required.  If you are eating pizza, the three course custom is not expected.  If you decide to try the Bistecca Fiorentina while in Florence, expect it to be served rare.  This is a very thick cut of meat and is customarily served this way.  Don’t be surprised if they are unhappy with your request to cook it longer.

8.            The use of ice in soft drinks and water is not customary in Italy.  If you want ice, you will need to ask for it.  When you do, don’t be surprised if you get only 3-4 cubes.  Ice is an ecological drain, because of the water usage and electricity for freezing as well as the space that it takes up.

9.            Be “ecologically aware”.  In Italy, most lights are on timers, escalators in airports on motion detectors, etc.  In hotels, you may need your key to be inserted near the door to work the lights.  Many places will not use air conditioning, and at certain times of the year, air conditioning may not be available in your hotel.

10.          Make time in your travels to sit in the piazzas and enjoy the culture.  Piazzas are one of the most important cultural aspects of Italy.  In your busy travels, it might be easy to overlook taking the time for this important activity.  Enjoy a beverage or picnic in the square while people watching.

For more information on Florence sites, visit

Karen Mills is an American woman who made the decision to leave her corporate life behind to live “la dolce vita” in Florence, Italy, Read more about her experiences at An American In Italy or contact her at

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Guest Post By: Karen Mills

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Varenna-Travel Destination on Lake Como, Italy

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

The small town of Varenna is a perfect choice when traveling to Lake Como in northern Italy, because of its beauty, tranquility and accessibility. Surrounded by mountains, Varenna’s steep walkways meet at the lakeshore, near the midpoint of Lake Como. This makes Varenna a very convenient location for exploring other lakeside towns like Bellagio or Menaggio by ferry.

Varenna, ItalyVarenna is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Its location on Italy’s Lake Como makes it a photographer’s dream, as it has the mountains, the water and those charming narrow steep walkways called contradas. Viewed from one of the ferry boats, Varenna looks like a postcard, with all the colorful homes and their tiled roofs, situated at different locations on the hillside all the way down to the lakeshore.

Along the lakeside is the lunga passeggiata, or passarella, which is a long walkway similar to a boardwalk. Sometimes it sits above the water, but it is a perfect spot where you can enjoy a leisurely stroll during the daytime or at night, where the atmosphere takes on a romantic tone.

To sit at a restaurant along the lake, or on a terrace of a hotel overlooking the lake, is an experience in tranquility. Without too many people here, locals or tourists, Varenna is very quiet and serene, especially at night. It is a wonderful place to relax and unwind, and I found the lake to be mesmerizing.

Varenna is easily accessed by trains, most of which depart from Milan every hour or two. From Varenna there is a ferry service which runs up, down and across the lake, providing for easy transport to explore the larger, more commercialized town of Bellagio. You can also stop at the smaller towns of Menaggio and Cernobbio, as well as take the longer ride to either Como or Lecco.

Varenna is small enough that you can walk almost anywhere within the town within five or ten minutes. There is a castle high above the town which is worth exploring, as well as some ancient villa with beautiful gardens. If your travels take you to northern Italy you will not want to miss the hidden gem on Lake Como known as Varenna.

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