Terri asked: “My husband and I are traveling to Italy for the first time this Spring. Please share any tips, lessons learned and hot spots to see and eat. Thanks!”
(Normally in an “Ask Lisa” blog, I would answer a few different questions at a time, but this one needs a lot of information!)
Congratulations on going to Italy! I love it there and I am so excited for you!
- If you are going to Italy, there will be a lot of walking. Wear shoes that you are comfortable in all day while walking and standing. I would try to stay away from traditional sneakers. I do not see Italians wearing a traditional, gym style sneaker. If you want to wear a sneaker, look for one that is more of a walking shoe (kind of a bowling shoe influence), neutral tan, taupe, etc.
- If you want to wear something dressier for dinner, remember that they have a lot of cobblestone streets. A platform or wedge may be better than a heel
- Shoes take up a lot of room in your luggage. Try to keep your shoe selection to a minimum. One pair of shoes for when you want to dress up, one or two pairs for walking and traveling, (on the plane). Most places are casual.
2. Budget for a guide.
- The tourism industry in Italy is an extremely important part of the Italian economy. They encourage people to obtain degrees in History Archeology, etc. that will enable them to be tour guides. There are a lot of good, qualified guides available. Make sure they are licensed.
- At the most important landmarks, there is one line for tourists and one line for tourists with tour guides. The line for the tourists with tour guides is always shorter even when the line for tourists is very long. This is one of the ways they encourage you to hire a guide.
- A good guide can make all the difference in how much you understand and appreciate what you see. It is one thing to be able to look at beautiful things but it is another thing to understand the significance of them.
- I have not found the single best way to make sure that you get a good tour guide. I have tried booking them online, through the hotel and by just joining a group that is available at a location, (like the Colosseum), and I have found a mixture of guides each way. If you look at websites that allow you to book the tour guides directly, they will each have an introduction that they write, so you can often look at their style of writing and see if they are a guide that is a good storyteller or if they merely give dates and names.
- Tour guides will often have access to sites at times when other tourists are not allowed in. For example, we were able to take a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel at 7:30am, before the general public was allowed in. This was a much better experience than being crammed in like sardines during usual business hours.
- You can always ask a good tour guide about the best places to eat. Tell them you do not want to eat in the tourist restaurants, you want to go where the locals go! There is definitely a huge range of food quality in Italy. You CAN get a bad meal. This can happen in very high traffic tourist areas where they do not think anyone knows the difference. Ask your tour guide where they eat. The best pizza I ever had in Italy was because of our taxi driver in Rome. Maurizio told us that he would never eat near our hotel. The food was bad. He recommended going to a pizzeria in the Trastevere District. We asked him if he could take us there, let us eat quickly and then take us back to our hotel. (We let him know that we understood we would be paying him for his time.) He took us to a little place where you stand and eat the pizza and it was the best thing I have ever had in my whole life! I want to go back to Rome just to eat there again. (And he actually did not charge us much) 🙂
- If you would like a good tour guide in Rome, I can recommend some!
- When you go to Italy, it is very easy to pick the tourists out of the crowd. In many cases, it is simply because of how they dress. Italians do not dress in an extremely casual, sloppy way. Even when they are casual, they are stylish. I think it is nice to look nice when you are there. After all, you’re representing us! Think of sleek, streamlined and simple. Fewer clothes, more accessories like scarves and jewelry.
- Try to dress in interchangeable layers. Depending on the time of year, it is hard to know what the temperatures will be in Italy. In northern Italy, they are not much different from the northeast region of the United States, but they don’t have as much snow in the winter. You will be walking outside a lot and you will be going into a lot of different buildings. Some of those buildings will have heat and air conditioning, but some will not. If you dress in comfortable layers that you can take off or put on throughout the day, you will be much more comfortable.
- Try to be respectful in the way that you dress. Italy is known for its beautiful churches. These are working churches where people worship and it is an important part of their lives. Especially if it is warm outside, make sure to carry a light scarf that you can throw over your shoulders if you are wearing something that is sleeveless or has has a lower neckline. Your legs should be covered to the knee as well. You will see people who do not pay any attention to these requests. But I feel that that is extremely rude and reinforces the stereotype of Americans not being respectful of others culture. After all, we are guests in their “house.” I would rather err on the side of being more respectful. If you always carry a scarf that you can drape it around your shoulders when ever you go into a church, you cannot go wrong.
4. Be aware.
- There are consistently issues with pickpockets in Italy. Every country that has a lot of tourists has their struggles with this kind of thing. Carry a purse that goes over your shoulder or Crossbody and you can keep tucked under your arm. I would also recommend leaving any valuable jewelry at home. But I say that no matter where you are traveling! It is one less thing to worry about 🙂
- You will find that the star rating of hotels in the United States may not be consistent with what you find with the same rating in other countries.
Many of these hotels are buildings that are very old. Also, Europeans do not normally require the amount of personal space that Americans do. Be aware that your room may be smaller than you can imagine, especially if you are trying to travel affordably. The Internet is the best place to do some research. It is good to look at websites like Trivago to find the best rates. But don’t be afraid to check out the hotels on other sites to find out the size of the room or whether or not the hotel is in a good neighborhood. Definitely read the reviews! They are extremely helpful.
Have a wonderful time in Italy! Take lots of pictures. You will make memories that you will want to be able to go back and revisit again and again and again.