During my visit to Italy there were many things that surprised me about the way things are. Many of them I wished to know before going to Italy – to avoid the confusion. This post will be helpful especially for first time Italy travelers.
Prepare yourself with a few words of basic Italian because English won’t get you too far.
- Opening hours
Many restaurants and shops are closing for lunch breaks. Dinnertime is usually around 7-8pm, don’t expect finding too many people in restaurants before that.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that having a cappuccino or coffee is more expensive at well know tourist traps… because it’s obvious, right? When I heard that cafes have different pricing for a cappuccino, if you have your coffee at a bar you pay less than have someone bringing it on the table in the same café!
In general tipping is not required, as you will see on the bill that they add a service charge and sometimes also a charge for the plates and cutlery.
If you go out for a meal, you can save money by ordering the house wine instead of some random wine from the menu. House wines have in most cases the best value.
- Cash vs. Credit Card
It’s common in Italy that you pay in cash, especially in restaurants. You might get suspicious looks if you ask to pay with a credit card. Tip: keep your eyes open for ATMs of international banks that don’t charge a service fee for foreign credit cards.
Booking your train tickets in advance will save you money (except for regional trains). If you travel via regional train, you need to validate your ticket before boarding at the validation machines.
- Common scams
One thing I learned from traveling is that if you get approached by a random person in a foreign country in English, they don’t have the best intentions.
- Helpful Person at the Train station
If you are using the ticket machines in big cities and someone you suddenly comes up insisting to help you with the navigation of the ticket machine or offering help (even though you’re doing just fine). It is common that they either want money from you for their help or there’s another person that you are not noticing involved that will try to steal your wallet.
- If someone offers you to carry your bag, they mostly expect a few bucks from you afterwards.
- Petition Scam
During my last Italy visit there was a situation that bugged me for a long time because I couldn’t understand what was really behind it. I just recently figured out that it that it was actually a common scam:
Someone chats you up in English and will ask you to sign a petition to support a drug rehab center for teenage drug addicts. He will maybe also mention that he is a former drug addict and ask you to sign a petition. In most cases the scammer will ask you for money (of course), I also heard that they are selling the lists of e-mail addresses (in case you wonder why the Nigerian Prince is e-mailing you again).
- Buying knock-offs
Whether you are getting approached on a beach or just see people selling Designer bags, wallets and watches on the floor of a walkway, for sure you will be at this point aware that these people are selling fake designer stuff. Still many people have the desire to own maybe a nice designer bag, sometimes even the fakes are pretty good made that you are wondering if you should just buy it? Who will notice at home that you bag is just a knock-off you bought on your holiday… since Italy is known for luxury designer brands, right?For those that are still thinking about buying designer knock-offs, let me destroy your fantasy now: Italy has very strict law regarding counterfeit products which results that YOU will need to pay a huge fine if you get caught and not the seller.
This is something very common in Europe, not only Italy. You might come across a woman (pregnant or with a baby) begging on the street, or a man showing you a sign written in multiple languages that explains that he’s from Eastern Europe and trying to collect money for his family with 5 children that lost their house in a flood, or a person that that is dressed to look old, kneeling on the street so that you can barely see the face (odd fact: these are often young people that dress up old – check their hands!). Many beggars are part of organized groups brining people from Eastern Europe to beg, of course the beggars won’t keep their money – they have to give their money to their bosses.
This one is a bit more specific compared to the rest: If you want to see the leaning tower of Pisa, one day is enough to stay in the city. (I always thought the leaning tower is much bigger from what I’ve seen on TV).