Tips for traveling to Italy – eating, shopping, and when to go!
Italy is a popular travel destination that is known for its iconic sites, incredible food, and beautiful scenery. Its old-world charm and laid-back lifestyle are the main draws for visitors that need a getaway. However, a few days of vacation can quickly become an expensive endeavor. These tips can help keep costs low while still experiencing all that Italy has to offer.
Avoid Restaurant Cover Charges
In Italy, sitting down for a meal at a restaurant can be expensive. Customary cover charges, or coperto, can range from two to five euros per person. In general terms, a restaurant cover charge, or “il coperto” in Italian, is a per-person charge which takes care of the basics which many diners are used to getting for free at home – things like a glass of tap water or a plate of bread. It’s also sometimes called the “pane e coperto,” the bread and cover charge. To save on cover charges, take a trip to a local open-air food market, grocery store, or take-away shop to pick up a few ingredients for a picnic or quick meal.
The food and ingredients in Italy are fresh, delicious, and can easily be transformed into a great meal without much preparation. Of course, a trip to Italy wouldn’t be complete without some great restaurant experiences, so plan on eating at a select few restaurants over the course of your trip, and enjoy!
Stay at Hostels or Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs)
Hostels are always a good bet if you are on a tight budget. Booking a hostel bed can cost as low as 11 euros in some cities. Italian B&Bs are often charming, authentic, less expensive than hotels but offer a bit more privacy and amenities than hostels. They are usually run by Italian families or ex-pats and provide comfortable rooms. Staying at B&Bs and hostels also provide opportunities to interact with the owners, as well as fellow travelers.
It’s actually easy to find great bed and breakfast stays using your usual travel websites like Booking.com, Trip Advisor. There is a great website called – Bed and Breakfast Italy that you can filter by location, area sites to see, etc.
Take Advantage of Italy’s Train Systems
Italy’s national train system, Trenitalia, is convenient and reliable. The trains service all of the main cities such as Rome, Florence, and Venice, as well as some of the smaller local cities in Italy. Trenitalia offers two types of trains: standard and high speed.
A train from Florence to Rome on the standard train takes approximately three hours, while the high-speed train takes approximately half the travel time, but for double the price. Depending on your particular time or budget constraints, tickets are purchased on-site at the train station. Train tickets can only be purchased online with an Italian credit card.
Italy’s rich textiles, sophisticated tailoring, and world-famous luxury brands can tempt even the best bargain shopper. However, you don’t have to pay full price for these high-quality products. There are shopping outlets and two major sales a year to buy great fashion finds and stay within your budget.
Outlet malls outside of Florence feature Armani, Gucci, Fendi, and other coveted brands at discounted prices. Timing is everything when it comes to budget shopping in Italy. For a few weeks in January and July each year, stores sell their merchandise for deep discounts as they prepare to stock up for the new seasons.
Learn a Few Phrases of Italian
It is always helpful to speak a few key Italian phrases, especially when traveling on a budget or off the beaten path. Speaking some Italian can help if you are bargaining for lower prices at the open-air market or searching for local accommodations.
Making an effort to speak the language often goes a long way and can enrich your travel experience by learning more about the locals and the Italian way of life. Italian phrasebooks and podcasts offer useful vocabulary, phrases, and world pronunciations that can come in handy during your travels.
When to Visit
There is never really a bad time to visit Italy! January is the perfect time to look for bargains on flights and accommodations since it’s the coldest time to visit. February means Carnival time, and Carnival in Italy means Venice. During the weeks leading up to Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday), the streets of Venice are a riot of color and masks.
The weather in March is unpredictable so it’s the perfect time to visit Italian cities that offer museums and other indoor activities. April offers major Easter celebrations in Italy. In Rome, the Pope undertakes the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday, as well as his traditional Mass on Easter Sunday. Almost every town organizes parades and processions, often in historical costume.
May offers ideal weather in Italy as well as many unique festivals and celebrations. June and July are considered the country’s high season so along with the temperatures rising – so do prices and crowds!
If you must travel to Italy during the summer, August is the time to do it. High temperatures cause most Italians to head to the beach or mountains. Mid August is the Feast of the Assumption and many businesses close for the middle two weeks of the month. If you don’t mind the heat, you will find fewer crowds in the cities and lower prices as hotels try to fill empty rooms.
The heat begins to subside in September making it one of the most pleasant times to visit. Although still busy, it’s easier to handle because of the pleasant temperatures. October brings cooler temperatures and the coastal resorts start shutting up shop. This makes October a great time to enjoy sightseeing and activities in the major cities of Rome, Florence and Venice.
November begins the start of the low season since the the damp, cold weather has most Italians staying inside. If you don’t mind colder temperatures, November offers plenty of empty museums and deserted cultural sites. Early December still offers low crowds but by mid-month people start to flock to Italy for the Christmas and New Year holidays. With these crowds also come higher prices.
Whenever you decide to visit Italy, or any other foreign country, be sure to become familiar with the customs and traditions before arriving. It will make your trip much better!