A trip to Italy for many us is a trip of a lifetime. For us this dream came true a few weeks ago. We spent a lot of time planning this trip to make sure that we got the most out of our time. It was an amazing journey and we learned a lot along the way. Italy has its own specific culture and a way of doing things, so make sure to do the research before going especially if you plan to explore small towns and countryside. Here are some of the things we learned to help you make the most out of your trip.
When to Go
We choose to go in October, when the crowds are a little more manageable and the weather is temperate. The summers in Italy are very hot and crowded, so it’s best to avoid June through August if you can. Even in October, Rome was crowded. In fact, there were so many people at Trevi Fountain that we didn’t even stop to see it, we just kept walking. I can’t even imagine summer time.
If you are traveling in peak season, look for options to avoid the most crowded times of the day. The Vatican and the Colosseum offer early morning and evening tours on certain days of the week. Visiting the Vatican Museums at night is also better for photography, you don’t get the sun glare from the windows.
As photographers we think the ideal time to visit Tuscany is in the spring when the poppies are blooming. That’s our plan for the next Italy trip.
Where to go
While much smaller than United States, Italy is still sizable and difficult to see in one trip, unless you have a lot of time. Most people start with Rome and either explore south to the Amalfi Coast and Sicily or explore north to Tuscany, Cinque Terre and Milan. Both options are beautiful and you really can’t go wrong. But for a first trip, I would recommend starting in Rome and going north. You’ll get the flavors of local regions and get to see the wine country, rugged coastline and ancient ruins. Ten days to two weeks is a good timeframe to explore these.
We did a lot of research about the best ways to explore Italy – do we rent a car? do we ride trains? do we take tours? Eventually, we settled on a combination of all three and we think it worked out great. So, think about what you want to do in each place and whether you can get to do that based on your transportation mode. For example, we really wanted to explore Tuscany’s countryside. To do that, we needed a car in Tuscany. However, while we were in big cities a car would have been an issue with parking fees and traffic, so we used trains and cabs there. One thing about services like Uber / Lyft, they can be more expensive in Italian cities than cabs. So, make sure to check before using.
The most important thing to remember when packing for Italy is to pack light. There are a lot of areas where you will have to carry your suitcase uphill and upstairs. Make sure it’s light enough to carry. Here are some other things to bring:
- Comfortable shoes for walking. You will be walking a lot, especially on cobblestone, which is killer on your feet.
- Febreeze and dryer sheets to keep clothes fresh.
- Empty water bottle with a filter, buying water can be expensive and restaurants will charge you for tap water.
- Noise canceling headphones and a good neck pillow – a lifesaver on long flights.
- Bug spray – there are mosquitoes everywhere, even in cities.
Note from Ann: after reading about cobble stones and stairs, I decided to take a backpack suitcase. It worked, but if you’re moving from place to place and taking trains, you have to carry your backpack a lot while walking. That got tiresome really quick. Honestly, a light roller carry on would have been fine.
Italian currency is Euros and cash is king and you will find often, your only option.
- The best way to get currency is at a local bank ATM.
- Have cash in small bills. Many small shops will not give change for large bills.
- Always have coins for rest rooms and parking.
- Parking fee machines are separate from exit, you have to pay at the machine before leaving. We learned this one the hard way!
Here are a few safety tips for traveling in Italy:
- Don’t sit your purse on the floor or hang it on your chair in restaurants. Always keep it close. I also carry a anti theft purse for extra protection, especially in crowded places.
- If you are using a phone as your main camera consider buying a lanyard to keep you from dropping it or someone pulling it from your hands. Also, don’t leave your phone on the table while in crowded restaurants, especially not on the edge of the table.
- If you’re taking public transportation, watch your belongings closely, tourists are a prime target in crowded areas, especially in Rome.
- Divide your cash and put it in multiple places. Don’t keep it all in one location.
- Always figure out how you’ll get back to the hotel when going somewhere. Public transportation becomes more sparse outside of peak hours.
Data is your friend, use a local SIM card or setup international plan with your phone carrier. Some carriers in the U.S. offer free data and text messaging while abroad. This definitely came in handy. Remember to download offline Google Maps before leaving home. Even with a data plan in some areas you will not have service. Take advantage of Wi-Fi, it’s prevalent all over Italy, but be careful not to use public Wi-Fi when viewing personal data, like banking or credit card info.
Want to learn more from our trip to Italy? Check out our Complete Guide for Visiting Cinque Terre.
What are some tips you have learned from your travels in Italy? Please comment below we would love to hear from you.