Visiting Italy? Our best advice & experiences

Italy is a dream destination that many travelers have on their must-see list. Sprawling with rich history, stunning landscapes, and irresistible cuisine, this beautiful country has something to offer everyone.

As you embark on your cruise vacation to Italy, prepare to make unforgettable memories while visiting some of the most captivating places in the world.

From the ancient ruins of Rome to the picturesque Amalfi Coast, your cruise will take you on a journey of discovery through Italy’s diverse regions. On shore excursions, admire the rolling hills of Tuscany, the charming villages of Cinque Terre, and the awe-inspiring cities of Venice, Florence, and Milan.

Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and age-old traditions as you explore Italy’s hidden gems and iconic attractions.

As you plan your Italian cruise adventure, ensure you have all the necessary travel information at your fingertips. In this article, we will answer some common questions and provide helpful tips to make your voyage memorable. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to experience the magic of Italy as you sail on a Mediterranean cruise in style.

The best time to visit Italy

Weather Considerations

When planning your trip to Italy, it’s essential to keep the weather in mind. The most comfortable months to visit Italy are April and May or September and October. During these months, temperatures are generally mild, and you can expect pleasant weather, fewer crowds, shorter queues, and a more relaxed atmosphere, making it enjoyable for sightseeing and walking around Italy’s cities or countryside.

Tourist seasons and the summer heat

Regarding tourist seasons, Italy is busiest in summer, particularly from June to August. You’ll likely encounter considerable crowds and long wait times at attractions during this period. But sometimes, we must consider school vacation periods, and summer is our only option. Your trip can be a success with careful planning and packing some thoughtful luggage essentials for the summer!

To recap, these are the ideal times to visit Italy:

  • Spring (April-May): Pleasant weather, moderate crowds, and reasonable prices.
  • Autumn (September-October): Comfortable temperatures, lower tourist numbers, and a range of food and wine festivals.

By considering the weather conditions and tourist seasons in Italy, you can plan your trip during a time that best suits your preferences. This will allow you to make the most of your visit and fully immerse yourself in the Italian experience.

Using your smartphone in Italy

Before heading to Italy, you should unlock your smartphone if it’s locked. This will allow you to use an Italian SIM card upon arrival and save on roaming charges. It’s essential to contact your provider before leaving home to verify if their international plans meet your needs.

To enhance your trip experience, it’s a great idea to download free apps that can help you stay in contact with your travel group, tour guides, and excursion suppliers. Communicating while exploring Italy becomes so much more accessible.

Some useful apps to download before leaving home include:

  • Omio: This app is perfect for booking transportation within Italy, ranging from trains to buses.
  • Google Maps: For seamless navigation during your visit, Google Maps will help you find your way around Italy’s beautiful cities and streets.
  • Babbel: To learn some essential Italian phrases or to brush up on your language skills, Babbel is a fantastic tool to have on hand.

By using these apps, your travel to Italy will be smoother, and you’ll make the most of your visit to this beautiful country. Remember always to have your smartphone handy and enjoy your trip!

Making the most of public transportation

While visiting Italy, public transportation is a convenient and efficient way to explore the cities and their attractions. The network includes trains, buses, and ferries, which provide cost-effective and stress-free travel experiences. Here, we will cover the use of public transit in the popular destinations of Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast.

Rome

In Rome, the Metro system (Metropolitana) is your go-to mode of transportation. It has three lines: A (orange), B (blue), and C (green), operating on 60 km (37 miles) of tracks with 73 station stops. To purchase tickets for public transportation in Rome, visit ticket machines at metro stations, tobacco shops, or newsstands.

Ticket types and prices:

  • Single ride (BIT) ticket: €1.50
  • 24-hour pass (BIG): €6,00
  • 48-hour pass (BTI): €12,50

Remember to validate your ticket by stamping it using the machines at the entrance of the metro or bus. Failure to validate may result in fines.

Florence

Navigating Florence is quite simple. The city’s public transportation system consists mainly of buses operated by ATAF. You can buy tickets from street vending machines, tobacco shops, bars, or newsstands. When boarding a bus, validate the ticket in the designated machine.

Ticket options:

  • Single ride ticket (90 minutes): €1.50
  • 24-hour ticket: €5,00

Venice

Venice offers a unique public transportation experience with vaporettos, water buses that navigate the city’s canals. Plan your trips by purchasing tickets or city passes at water bus stops or online.

Ticket prices:

  • 75-minute ticket: €7,50
  • 24-hour travel card: €20,00
  • 48-hour travel card: €30,00

Remember to validate your travel card by scanning it on the reader before boarding the Vaporetto.

Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast can be accessed using buses and ferries. However, during the high season (Easter to August), expect crowded buses, while off or shoulder season brings reduced ferry service. Tickets for buses like SITA and ferries can be purchased at their respective boarding points.

Sample ticket prices:

  • SITA day pass: €8,00
  • Ferry ticket from Sorrento to Amalfi: €18,00

When using public transportation in Italy, always purchase and validate tickets to avoid fines and explore available city passes for more convenient and cost-effective options. Enjoy your trip and make the most of Italy’s well-connected public transit systems!

Visiting Tuscany

Tuscany, a region in central Italy, is known for its breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and traditional cuisine. In this section, we will explore some of the regional specialties and the world-famous wine-tasting experiences Tuscany offers.

Regional Specialties

When visiting Tuscany, you should try some of the region’s mouthwatering dishes:

  • Panzanella: A classic Tuscan salad made with tomatoes, cucumber, basil, and stale bread.
  • Ribollita: A hearty vegetable soup with beans and bread.
  • Pici: A thick, hand-rolled pasta often served with a rich tomato sauce or a delicious garlic sauce.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the region during autumn, don’t miss the chance to taste freshly harvested olives and truffles, considered regional treasures.

Wine Tasting

Tuscany is well-known for its top-quality wines, and no visit is complete without a wine-tasting experience. Here are some guidelines to help you make the most out of your adventure:

Where to stay: Base yourself in a centrally located town such as Florence, Siena, or Pisa, which will allow you to easily reach various vineyards and enjoy other attractions the region offers.

How to choose vineyards: Research the types of wines you prefer and prioritize vineyards that produce those varieties. Some of the most famous Tuscan wines include Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Booking wine tasting and experiences: Plan and book your tasting sessions to ensure availability. Some vineyards offer guided tours, winemaking workshops, or even cooking classes for an immersive experience.

Getting around: Driving is the most convenient way to explore Tuscany and visit vineyards at your own pace. If you prefer not to drive, consider joining a wine-tasting tour.

Remember to indulge in the beautiful Tuscan landscapes and savor this enchanting region’s unique flavors.

Staying Safe

When visiting Italy, it’s essential to take basic precautions similar to any other travel destination. Pay close attention to your belongings and be mindful of pickpocketing. To reduce the risk of theft, consider using cross-body bags to keep your belongings more secure.

It’s also a good idea to choose credit cards over debit cards. Credit cards offer better fraud protection and may provide additional travel benefits, such as travel insurance and reward points. In case of any unauthorized transactions, credit card companies are generally more efficient in resolving problems.

We’ve always found that we don’t need a lot of cash; most places in Italy accept cards.

What to wear in Italy on a cruise vacation

Remember to check the weather forecast before your trip, as it will help you pack the appropriate clothing. Comfortable and heat-conscious clothing is recommended during the summer, with linen and cotton being the best fabric choices.

Since the weather can change throughout the day, wearing layers is a good idea. This way, you can easily add or remove clothing based on the temperature and comfort level.

In Italy, respecting the dress code in places of worship is essential. Both men and women should ensure that they cover their shoulders and knees when entering churches. Carrying a lightweight shawl or scarf can be helpful in these situations.

Investing in a pair of great walking shoes is advised as you’ll be spending a lot of time walking on medieval streets, navigating ancient sites, climbing cobblestones, and conquering steps in coastal regions like Amalfi. Skechers Walkers are a popular choice due to their comfort and support.

Visiting famous attractions, museums, and ancient Sites

Entrance to popular and well-known sites can be fully booked months in advance. By securing your tickets beforehand, you ensure you’ll be able to experience these must-see attractions.

Skip-the-line tickets can be a great option, as they allow you to bypass the often long queues and save valuable time during your trip. Alternatively, you may want to consider a tour with a professional guide. These tours often provide in-depth information about the sites and can help you better understand their significance.

Starting early is a good idea to make the most of your visits to these attractions. Not only does this allow you to beat the crowds, but it also helps you avoid the midday heat, which can be stifling in Italy, particularly during summer. Book the earliest available time in the morning – and enjoy the light of a sunrise on your way to meet your guide.

Some must-visit attractions and sites in Italy include:

  • Rome: The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Pantheon
  • Florence: Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, Uffizi Gallery, and Ponte Vecchio
  • Venice: St. Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, and Rialto Bridge
  • Milan: Cathedral of Milan, Sforza Castle, and Santa Maria delle Grazie (home to The Last Supper)
  • Pompeii: The well-preserved ancient city buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Remember, when exploring these popular attractions, museums, and ancient sites, always stay mindful of your surroundings and respect the historical and cultural significance of the places you visit.

Finding authentic gelato – and how to spot the fake

When visiting Italy, you’ll undoubtedly encounter numerous gelaterias offering a wide range of flavors, but not all serve authentic Italian gelato. To ensure you experience the real deal, here are a few tips to help you find the best Italian gelato.

Color is key. Authentic gelato uses natural ingredients, so the colors should be muted and natural, never neon or overly vibrant. For example, the banana and pistachio flavors should be grayish-white and earthy green. Any artificially bright colors are a red flag for inauthentic gelato.

Density and texture. The way gelato is stored can give you clues about its quality. Authentic gelato should be packed densely into the bins, never piled high or whipped with air. This denser texture results in a smoother, creamier mouthfeel and richer taste.

Seasonal ingredients. The best gelaterias will use fresh, seasonal ingredients to make their gelato. This means some flavors may not be available year-round, but it guarantees a higher-quality, authentic product.

Location and reputation. Do some research before visiting a gelateria. Check online reviews, ask locals for recommendations, and look for establishments that have been around for many years, like Vivoli in Florence, which dates back to about 1926.

Cash and credit cards in Italy

When planning your trip to Italy, it’s essential to consider how you’ll manage your finances during the visit. Make sure to bring some euros with you, as they are the local currency in Italy. To avoid inconvenience, acquire around $100 worth of euros from your bank before leaving your home country.

This will provide you with enough cash to cover small purchases and emergencies without worrying about finding an ATM immediately.

Inform your bank about your trip abroad and your intention to use your credit card in Italy. This ensures that your card remains active and prevents any security-related issues.

While cash is ideal for small purchases like ice cream or souvenirs, credit cards are widely accepted in most establishments, providing a more convenient and secure payment method.

Opt for a credit card like Visa or Mastercard, which may offer extra travel insurance. Ask your credit card company what they offer for travel abroad.

Dealing with ATMs and cash machines in Italy is relatively straightforward. However, be aware of possible fees associated with the use of foreign ATMs. Whenever possible, use ATMs associated with reputable banks to ensure a favorable exchange rate and reduce the risk of fraud.

By following these guidelines, you will be better prepared to manage your money while enjoying your trip to Italy. Remember that having access to both euros and credit cards provides a pleasant and worry-free travel experience.

Learn the local language – even if only a few phrases

Learning a few essential Italian words is fun and can make a difference in interacting with locals. They’ll appreciate your efforts, and you’ll find that communicating becomes easier. There’s no need to be fluent, but knowing some essential phrases will go a long way!

Start with greetings and salutations, such as “Ciao” (informal hello and goodbye) and “Buongiorno” (good morning). Familiarize yourself with simple phrases to help you navigate, like “Dove si trova…?” (Where is…?), “Quanto costa?” (How much does it cost?), and “Che Buono!” (How delicious!). Practice numbers, days of the week, and basic directions (right, left, straight) to help make your trip smoother.

Given the country’s rich culinary traditions, mastering a few phrases related to Italian cuisine is helpful. Learn to order food, ask for the check, and express your dietary needs or preferences, such as “Sono vegetariano/a” (I am a vegetarian) or “Sono allergico/a a…” (I am allergic to…).

To learn these local phrases, you can use various apps to help you pick up essential Italian vocabulary. Some of the best language learning apps include Babbel, which focuses on practical and conversational Italian.

Coffee and Italy: local customs

When visiting Italy, you’ll quickly discover that coffee is an essential part of the culture. To fully experience this, visit local coffee shops, often called “Bar” in Italy, rather than large international chains.

Local coffee shops offer authentic, traditional Italian coffee beverages, and you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere by standing at the bar to enjoy your drink.

Espresso is the norm: Italians typically drink espresso, called “caffè,” small and fast. You’ll notice that a regular caffè is comparable to what you might know as a short black or espresso. Don’t be confused by the small size – this beverage packs a punch for a quick caffeine fix.

Morning cappuccino: It’s common for Italians to have a cappuccino in the morning, often accompanied by some form of pastry. However, ordering a cappuccino after lunch is unusual. In the afternoon, stick to espressos or other coffee drinks if you need a pick-me-up.

Skip the sugar: A traditional Italian macchiato may surprise you, as it isn’t the sweet, large beverage you’re used to in American coffee chains. Instead, it’s a shot of espresso “stained” with a bit of milk. It might take some time to adjust to this simpler, bolder taste, but the unique flavor experience is worth it.

Pay at the counter: At many Italian coffee shops, you’ll need to pay for your coffee at the cashier before giving your receipt to the barista.

Shop opening hours and afternoon closure times

When visiting Italy, you must be aware of the typical shop opening hours and afternoon closure times to plan your shopping and sightseeing accordingly.

It’s worth noting that many traditional Italian shops observe a “riposo” or “siesta” break in the afternoon. During these hours, you may find that smaller, family-owned businesses close their doors to enjoy a midday break. This typically occurs between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., with some variation depending on the shop and location.

In general, shops in Italy open around 9:00 a.m. and close at 1:00 p.m. for a lunch break. They then reopen in the afternoon at around 4:00 p.m. and close for the day at around 7:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. However, these hours may vary slightly by region and season.

Larger supermarkets often maintain continuous opening hours and do not close at lunchtime.

Additionally, remember that shopping hours may differ in popular tourist destinations like Rome or Milan. In these cities, you may find that shops stay open longer in the evenings and sometimes even on Sundays. Department stores like “La Rinascente” in Milan, for example, remain open until 9:00 p.m. on weekdays and until 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

While planning your visit to Italy, be prepared for shop opening hours and afternoon closures. Embrace the local customs and enjoy the slower pace of life; that’s what Italy is all about – La Dolce Vita!

Where to eat and how to choose your restaurant

When visiting Italy, one of the main highlights is undoubtedly its world-famous cuisine. As you embark on your gastronomic adventure, you’ll want to find the best places to eat.

To help you with this, we’ve put together some tips on where to eat and how to choose your restaurant.

Eat where the locals eat – this is often a clear sign that the food is high-quality and authentic. Look for the busy tables filled with Italians and engage in the lively atmosphere.

Popular places are usually worth the wait. Don’t let a packed restaurant put you off; instead, take it as an indication that the food and experience are worth your time. Make a reservation if possible or plan a visit during less busy hours.

Venture away from the tourist-heavy areas and explore the smaller streets to discover hidden gems. Local eateries tend to offer a more genuine dining experience with authentic Italian dishes that you won’t find in mainstream establishments. Keep an eye out for places with a strong presence of local patrons – they know what’s good!

When choosing your restaurant, remember these tips:

  • Operating hours: Traditional Italian restaurants have specific meal times, usually open from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and from 7:30 pm – 11 p.m. for dinner. Respect the local eating customs to enjoy the authentic Italian dining experience fully.
  • Menu: Aim for places that offer a seasonal and region-specific menu, using fresh, local ingredients. Avoid restaurants with oversized, laminated menus with pictures – these are often tourist traps.

Use these guidelines during your trip, and you’ll be sure to find the best dining experiences Italy offers. Buon appetito!

Shopping for food and groceries if you opt for an Airbnb

When staying in an Airbnb in Italy, you might want to do some grocery shopping to make your meals and save money. Here are a few guidelines to help you with the process.

Local supermarkets and shops: You can find plenty of local supermarkets and shops to cater to your grocery needs. For larger supermarkets, consider chains such as Esselunga, Conad, Carrefour, and Coop. Remember to check out smaller, family-owned shops and markets near your AirBnB for fresh fruits, vegetables, and other delicacies.

Opening hours: Keep in mind that opening hours may vary depending on the store and location. Many stores close during lunchtime (between 1 pm and 4 pm) and are shut on Sundays. So, note your nearest store’s opening hours to avoid disappointment.

Shopping for dietary requirements: If you have specific dietary needs, such as gluten-free, vegan, or lactose-free, you’ll find dedicated sections in most supermarkets with various products. Look for labels like senza glutine (gluten-free), vegano (vegan), or senza lattosio (lactose-free). Also, consider visiting specialty stores to have a wider selection of products catering to your needs. Ask your AirBnB host for some tips before you leave home.

Items to help you cook: Before hitting the grocery store, ask your AirBnB host what cooking essentials are already available in your rental. Many vacation rentals come stocked with basic supplies like salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar. This way, you can avoid buying items you might only need for a few uses during your stay.

Storing your groceries: Make sure your AirBnB has enough refrigerator and pantry space for your food. If not, you may need to plan smaller, more frequent grocery trips.

The best cruise itineraries for visiting many ports in Italy

Embarking on a cruise is a great way to explore multiple Italian destinations in one trip. Below are some top cruise itineraries to help you experience the best Italy has to offer.

Explore Venice and the Adriatic Coast: Your journey will start in enchanting Venice, where you can ride a gondola down the winding canals and visit the brilliant gold mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica. Continue south along the Adriatic coast, stopping in picturesque coastal towns like Bari or Brindisi before reaching the UNESCO-listed city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Discover the Italian Riviera and Mediterranean Gems: This itinerary will take you along Italy’s stunning Ligurian coast, including Cinque Terre and the glitzy coastal towns of Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure. You’ll also have the chance to explore the French Riviera, visiting glamorous Monte Carlo or the sun-soaked beaches of Cannes and Nice.

Savor Rome and the Amalfi Coast: Begin in Rome, where you can marvel at iconic sites like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the breathtaking Sistine Chapel. Once you’ve explored the Eternal City, your cruise will take you to the gorgeous Amalfi Coast. Visit charming towns like Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi, where you can admire the colorful cliffside houses and indulge in delicious Italian cuisine.

Unlock the Secrets of Sicily and Sardinia: This itinerary allows you to discover Italy’s two largest islands, blessed with beautiful sandy beaches, clear blue seas, and rich history. In Sicily, visit the ancient city of Syracuse, the Baroque architecture of Catania, and the impressive Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. In Sardinia, explore the chic coastal resorts of Costa Smeralda, the ancient ruins of Nora, and the picturesque town of Alghero.

Remember, before you book your cruise, research the excursions and onboard activities the cruise line offers to ensure a memorable and enjoyable experience.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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