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6 Things To Know Before Your Trip To Italy

I have just returned from my fourth trip to Italy and it sounds like many of our brides and grooms are planning trips to Italy for their honeymoon! It is incredibly exciting and I love talking about it and showing pictures.

Castel Del Piano, Tuscany
Castel Del Piano, Tuscany

In a previous blog I included photos of a family trip to Rome and Florence at Christmas time and made some of the best memories of my life. I will admit it is easier, I think, because my husband is fluent in Italian. Most everyone there knows English, however having him able to speak directly is clearly an advantage. He also lived there for several years and already knew the ins and outs of the culture.

Before I get into the six things that I feel are most important, I need to preface with this. There is definitely a sense of pride to be of Italian descent! However, because you are of Italian descent does not mean you are “Italian”. If you tell an actual Italian that you are Italian (in English no less), they will stare at you in disbelief. You are Italian-American. Even my husband who is fluent and lived there is not considered an Italian! You will realize this right away – as I did – and here are the six things that I think are most important to know to make your trip that much better!

The Regions of Italy
The Regions of Italy

I. Focus On One or Two Areas

I know this is very hard because it’s not as though you visit Italy every day and you want to see as much as possible. We are fortunate to have gone a number of times and still have trouble with this advice.

Italy is a large country with spectacular sites, cuisine, and qualities in every region. There are places everyone wants to see such as Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence, Amalfi Coast, Naples, Capri, Sicily, etc. The thing is, you probably don’t have three months off. Chances are you have 7-10 days, 14 if you’re lucky and at least 2 will be traveling there and back. Packing in every tourist spot you can is not good idea and you will spend too much time traveling and not enough time enjoying.

My advice is to pick your must-see city first. You will want to spend several days there to really experience it and visit the sites that drew you to it. Once you choose and know what you want to see, then perhaps you can add another depending on the distance and how much time you have. Can you get there by train or will you have to fly? Will you have a car and are you comfortable driving unfamiliar roads with signs in Italian? All of this adds not only to the cost but takes a lot of time. You can put another region or two on your bucket list for your next trip!

Which leads me to #2 which will help you choose your location!

2. Italy Is Not Spaghetti and Meatballs

Dinner at Osteria degli Argini, our favorite hands-down in Parma
Dinner at Osteria degli Argini, our favorite hands-down near Parma!

Before I went to Italy, I thought all Italians ate spaghetti and meatballs. You know why? Because I am American. It is so laughable now that I cringe when I think about it.

I don’t think I saw the words ‘spaghetti’ or ‘meatballs’ on any menu I’ve ever read.

We went to a town called Bolzano so far north on the Austrian border that they spoke both Italian and German and have traveled throughout all the way down to Sicily. Nowhere was I offered a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Cuisine is regional and they all have their specialties.

This is very important because if you have preferences, dietary restrictions, allergies, etc., you will want to factor that in to your visit. For example, Sicily is an island and fish is served on the menu more than a city like Parma which specializes in stuffed pastas (my personal favorite!), Florence and their infamous Bistecca steaks and wild boar, or Milan with their incredibly delicious risottos and polenta. And while you can get delicious pizza anywhere in Italy, it originated in Naples so guess who has the best pizza?!

If you have an allergy to seafood or you are a vegetarian, this may affect where you visit. Although each city will have an offering of everything (pastas, meats, fish), research the specialties in each area.

Tordelli bolognese in Lucca
Tordelli bolognese in Lucca

I’m sure you can find spaghetti and meatballs somewhere, but really, just get a local pasta with a bolognese sauce. **Special note: Do Not use or ask for a spoon to twirl pasta. They do not do this and neither should you.

3. Eating Times

Eating is completely different there on several levels. They do not eat a ‘breakfast’ like you are used to. Some of the hotels will offer something close, but it is not a bagels, eggs, and pancakes kind of thing.

In the morning before 10 AM, you would enjoy a cappuccino and a brioche or pastry. You never ask for a cappuccino after 10 AM – there are a number of other coffees available so do not ask for cappuccino. (Speaking of coffee, espresso does not get filled to the top of demitasse cup, only about halfway.)

Lunch is served typically between 12-2 PM. Most restaurants close at 3 PM and if you missed it, you missed it. You may be able to find a McDonald’s in a touristy area, but you will not get into any decent restaurant after that time.

And if you do miss it, dinner will be at 7 PM or later. It also lasts a long time. When you reserve a table, it is yours for the night and you may be there for several hours. Some will make dinner reservations as late as 9 PM and there is nothing abnormal about that to them.

The food, as you would imagine and as everyone will attest to, is out of this world and not nearly as expensive as here.

4. Time change

A trip to Italy will usually take 7 to 8 hours from Philadelphia or New York to Milan or Rome. And once you land, it will be six hours ahead of Eastern standard time. You will be exhausted from the trip and want to immediately go to sleep. Unless it is actually in the evening when you arrive (which it probably will not be) do not go to sleep.

If you wind up sleeping during the day you arrive, you will never get used to the time change and it will definitely affect the quality of your trip.

5. Beaches

Italy has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. They are not what you are used to. You don’t just show up to the beach with your chairs and blanket!

These beaches have chairs and umbrellas, some have lounges as well, that you rent. You can look up the local beach(es) and find the website or phone number to rent your space. Most have their own restaurant and bathroom facilities as well.

6. Attire

There is so much to see in Italy and you will most likely walk more than you ever have. No matter what part you visit, you will definitely walk. Most tourists are fine wearing shorts and sneakers, but if you are going to tour churches check the rules – some require your shoulders and/or knees are covered. When you are heading out to a restaurant, dress nicely. Even when we toured the amazing city of Lucca and during the afternoon most of the women had sundresses, hats, and sandals on. They do not wear sweatpants, leggings, or sloppy-looking outfits.

I hope you found this information helpful! If you have questions or need advice, we would love to help you. We have been all over and know many amazing restaurants and sites to see. Reach out to us anytime!

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