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Planning a getaway to Italy? Whether it’s your first time to the bel paese or you’re an Italy travel veteran, here are some insights to help you navigate Italia like a local:

  1. Speak Like an Italian – When you walk into a small negozio (shop) or other establishment, it’s custom to greet the shop owner with ‘buongiorno’ (‘good day’, from morning until mid-afternoon) or ‘buonasera’ (‘good evening’, from mid-afternoon into evening). Only say ‘buona notte’ (‘good night’) at the end of the night, when it’s time for bed!
  2. Siesta and Dine Like an Italian – Typically shops close on Monday mornings, and daily between 1-4pm for siesta (especially in smaller, less touristic towns), when Italians go home to have lunch with their families. Lunch is traditionally the biggest meal of the day, and an important social occasion when families get together. Meal times can vary depending on the region (the further south you go, the later meals typically start). As a rule of thumb, restaurants won’t open for lunch before 12:30 or 1pm, and 7:30 or 8pm for dinner.
  3. La Cucina Italiana – The food you find in Italy may be different from the Italian food you are used to in the States. You won’t find spaghetti and meatballs or fettucine alfredo, and the cuisine can vary greatly from region to region (each region features its own local ingredients and unique cooking styles). For example in Rome, you’ll find cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino cheese and peppercorns) and carciofi alla roman (Roman-style artichokes); in Milan, risotto-based dishes, and in Tuscany, bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak) and simple dishes like panzanella (bread salad).
  4. Go Where the Locals Go – If you are seeking an experience that is authentic and off-the-beaten-path, you should try to go where the locals go. Some of the most authentic Italian jaunts may appear simple and nothing special from the outside, but they make for some of the richest and most delicious dining experiences you can find. These places are often unassuming and removed from the most heavily toured sites (if you want an authentic dining experience in Venice, you shouldn’t eat right in Piazza di San Marco). Be adventurous, and embrace the real local culture!
  5. Breakfast Like an Italian – Italian breakfast is typically a lighter meal, with maybe some cereal and yogurt or toast with nutella or jam. If you are eating in a hotel, you can enjoy a buffet with these options and some cheeses and sliced meats. If you venture out to a ‘bar’ (local coffee, pastry and sandwich shop), order a cappuccino or espresso and pastry with chocolate, jam or cream. Italians only really drink cappuccino in the morning, and never after lunch or dinner.
  6. The Italian ‘Bar’ – In Italy, ‘bar’ has a different meaning – it’s a place where you can go to get a café (espresso) or cappuccino, or maybe a little pastry or sandwich, often times standing at the counter while you eat or drink for a minute, before you are off on your way. Usually, you need to pay first at the cassa (cash register), and then you get a receipt which you show to the barrista. There is usually no line at the bar, just find some counter space to show your ticket, give your order and enjoy.
  7. Dining Customs – In Italy, there is a standard order of Italian courses (antipasti, primi, secondi and contorni, dessert and espresso). You don’t have to eat a full 4-course meal every time, but this is the order in which they serve the different dishes. Primi are ‘first courses’: a pasta, soup or rice dish. Secondi are ‘second courses’: meat, fish or poultry. When dining, waiters typically won’t check on a table very frequently, you have to flag them down (it’s not because they don’t care, but because it is custom to let diners linger, and enjoy pauses between courses without being disturbed). Dining in Italy is a social experience, so take your time soaking in the amazing food and wine with family and friends!
  8. Tipping – If you come from a tipping culture, it can be tough to get used to the idea of not leaving tips for waiters, taxi drivers and hotel service. But Italians do not tip. In a restaurant, locals will often leave nothing at all, or at most 2-5 EURO (regardless of the bill). So, if you can’t help yourself, a good rule of thumb is to leave the change from your bill or at most 5-10%.
  9. Getting Around in Italy – When riding the bus or train, don’t forget to get your ticket stamped before getting on board (look for the little yellow machines at the train terminals or on the bus, where you can stick your ticket in to get it validated). In some places, like Venice, when riding on the public water taxi, tickets are electronic, and you can hold your ticket up to the machine for it to scan.
  10. Driving – Driving from town to town in the countryside or on the highway is often manageable, with easy-to-follow signs pointing the way towards different destinations. However, the arrival and departure from big cities can be harder to manage and very stressful (especially in cities like Rome where there are no rules, and lots of vespas weaving in and out of traffic aggressively). Don’t be intimidated by Italians’ reputation as aggressive drivers. Driving beyond the major cities and towns is sometimes the best way to discover the real Italy – all the local favorites and hidden gems Italia has to offer!
Written By:
Jon, Founder at 3:00 pm
Monday, December 21, 2015