Last month we got to spend 8 days in Italy, and it is definitely one of my favourite countries in the world now! To be honest, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did but we had such a wonderful time. Perfect food, beautiful scenery, amazing architecture and great weather! I mean, what more can you ask for? But we also went through a few experiences that I’m sharing with you in this post, hoping that this will help you have a memorable trip if you’re planning to visit Italy.
Don’t forget to bring your credit card if you’re planning on renting a car. Italy is probably the only country in the world (or maybe of very few) where if you want to hire a car you must pay with a credit card (and credit card needs to be under the driver’s name). I’ve been to 31 countries so far, and I have never faced this problem before. We booked a car from a car rental site, and went to pick it up from Venice. When we arrived there, we were told that there was no way to hire a car without a credit card and nobody could help us. After spending 4 hours of frustration trying to call different companies, and asking friends if they knew of a solution. We decided to take the bus to go to Venice Airport, and see if we can find a company that will accept my Visa Debit. Luckily, we found a company that were happy to accept a debit card with the condition to hold a €300 deposit that will be returned to us after we return the car. Yes it is more expensive than renting a car using a credit card, but if you find yourself in that situation then dealing with a company like this can be a good solution.
Tip: When you hire a car in Italy, you will be asked to present your national driving license instead of your international driving license.
Not all gelato shops accept credit cards. In Italy, Cash is king (except if you’re planning on renting a car). It happened to us once, and I got stuck in the gelato shop holding two melting ice creams while my boyfriend had to run to find a cash point to get some cash.
You don’t need a car if you’re visiting Venice or Rome. We made a mistake by renting a car for the whole period including our 3 days in Rome. Our car was parked in a parking that was 1 mile away from our hotel, and it costed us a lot of money having to pay for the car hire and the parking space. If your hotel is located in the city centre of Rome, you will have to park it in a car park that will most probably be a bit far from your hotel (do your research before deciding whether you will need the car or not).
Tip: If you are staying in Rome, and would like to visit the main attractions including the Vatican City, it is recommended that you explore these areas on foot.
You need a car if you’re visiting Lake Garda. There are certain places in Italy that require having a car if you would like to visit, and Lake Garda is one of them. Lake Garda area is massive, and moving around from one place to another is not easy if you don’t have a car (or a bike!).
Italians don’t leave tips at restaurants, so you don’t need to tip in Italy! At first we were confused as we were not sure how much did we need to leave for tips at restaurants, so we kept leaving tips until I asked an Italian friend who explained that most restaurants already include Servizio (service charge) in the bill. While some people who work in services will be happy to get a tip, and maybe even demand it as they are used to being spoilt by tourists. Other people might find it offensive if you leave them tips.
This is not the UK, people don’t really say please and thank you as much as Brits do. We Brits tend to over apologise over everything! Imagine if you’re in a concert, and you’re trying to walk in the crowd to get closer to the stage. How many times would you say sorry to people until you get there? People in Italy don’t do this.
Most restaurants CLOSE between lunch and dinner, so you need to keep in mind that lunch is usually served at 13:00 till 15:00 maximum, while dinner is served between 20:00 and 22:00.
Tip: It is always better to make a reservation before going to a restaurant if possible.
If you’re planning on visiting churches, make sure to cover your shoulders and knees. When we visited the Vatican City to see St Peter’s Basilica, we did see some people at the entrance speaking to the security people as they could not get in unless they were able to find a way to cover their shoulders and knees. When you enter churches in Italy, you would commonly see a sign on the door that requires that you cover your shoulders and knees. In Rome City Centre there are more churches than there are days in a year. If you admire churches, Rome has so much to offer!
Always keep an eye on your belongings, and be alert of things happening around you. When we arrived to Verona, we headed to a car park. By the entrance some young man came up to us, and took our ticket before we entered the parking and ran off. We then had to contact the security people to issue us a new ticket. Also when walking around Verona, we did see a few signs that warned us to be careful from pickpockets. Like any touristic place in the world, you have to keep an eye on your belongings.
Tip: I find cross shoulder bags to be very useful when travelling, they’re very comfortable and keep all your belongings safe.
If you’re hiring a car, you should know that most of the highways between cities are toll highways that you will need to pay for. On these roads, the worst thing that can happen to you is to miss an exist that you are meant to take. This happened to us a couple of times, and it costed so much time and money having to take much longer roads to get to our destination.
Tip: Traffic gets a little bit bad once you get closer to the toll gates, so try and leave earlier if you need to arrive at a certain time.
Petrol is not cheap! We rented out a small Lancia, and a full tank cost us around EUR55. Petrol prices are not the same everywhere, they differ from one station to another.
Ordering tap water at a restaurant is not an option. In fact, the first question that you will be asked when you are first seated will be whether you would like still or sparkling water so you need to have an answer ready. On the other hand, you can save money on drinking water when you visit Rome as the ancient romans were so kind to leave awesome drinking fountains all over Rome. These fountains were built centuries ago, and they provide the city with free, fresh, safe drinking water that will keep you hydrated during the hot weather. These fountains are called “Nasoni” in Italian. The water is tested and licensed by the city of Rome, and it comes directly from the mountains above the city which means that it’s pure, free from added salt and chemicals. Turns out that you can even download an app on your phone that will display all the nasonis on your phone! How cool is that?
Tip: Make sure not to mix up drinking fountains with decorative fountains in Rome! Don’t try drinking water from Trevi fountain for example, as that can get you in serious trouble!
Always take the receipt when leaving a restaurant. By law you are required to have the receipt for 100 meters after leaving a restaurant. This is to ensure that the restaurant is paying taxes.
When visiting a touristy city, make sure that you do your research of places where you would like to eat. In Rome, we were victims of a couple of tourist traps. The food wasn’t good and the restaurants were overpriced. To avoid situations like these, do your research online and create a list of restaurants that you would like to visit and make reservations in advance.
Tip: Try to find restaurants that are approved by locals rather than touristic restaurants. Maria at Heart Rome wrote an excellent