10 Common Mistakes Travelers Make in Italy — and How to Avoid Them
What not to do when visiting Italy to ensure your trip goes smoothly.
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Ciao, Italy — the land of pizza, pasta, wine, and all things romantic. Avoid these common vacation mistakes on your next trip to the Boot, so you can focus on enjoying la dolce vita.
1. Eating Too Much Pizza
Eat as much pizza as you want, but don’t stray too far from your dietary status quo (and don’t forget you’ll need to save room for pasta, wine, and gelato, too). Italy’s culinary delights are one of its main draws, but you’ll feel sick if you gorge yourself. Too much too fast could bring more harm than joy to your trip. Keep it balanced and incorporate lots of walking, so that you can enjoy the best of Italy’s irresistible flavors without overdoing it.
2. Neglecting to Consider the Weather
Italy in the summer is blazing hot, and many buildings in its ancient cities aren’t equipped with quite the same air-conditioning power that you may be used to at home. You don’t have to orient your trip around the weather entirely, but keep in mind that Italy has distinct seasons, which run the gamut from sweltering to downright frigid.
3. Waiting in Unnecessary Lines
Instead of waiting hours in line and paying to enter the Duomo, only to be shuffled quickly through the cathedral because it’s onto the next quota of visitors, why not attend a service? No matter your religious beliefs or background, all are welcome to attend and respectfully observe, and it’s completely free (though leaving a small offering would be a kind gesture). Plus, you get the opportunity to experience these historical buildings in action, being used in the manner they were intended, with organs playing, candles lit, incense burning, and more.
Services typically last an hour or less and you can walk right in, so it will probably take you less time than visiting via the traditional tourist route. The service will likely be in Italian, but most churches have a printed program with an English translation to help you follow along.
If you feel out of place or hesitant, spend a few minutes researching what to expect from the service, or consider arriving early and asking an usher if there are any protocols or procedures to note.
4. Not Dressing Appropriately
While Italy is not an overly religious or modest country, many of its attractions are sacred houses of worship that require respectful attire for entry. Men and women alike should carry a scarf or shawl to ensure shoulders, knees, and elbows are covered when entering houses of worship; closed-toe shoes and pants are also a good idea. You will be denied entry if you don't adhere to the dress code. So, while cutoff jeans and a cute crop top may get you Instagram-ready, they aren’t going to fly in places like the Vatican.
5. Not Carrying Cash
Grab some euros before setting out to explore Italy. You’ll pass a lot of gelato shops, pizza joints, and street vendors with tempting wares such as luxe leather belts and bags, hand-painted art, Murano glass, and trinkets. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and strike a bargain for these items. The price you see is not necessarily the one you have to pay, but it’s a whole lot easier to negotiate when there’s cash on the table, and many do not accept cards at all.
6. Forgetting to Validate Your Train Ticket (and Other Train Mishaps)
If you’ve secured a Eurail pass for your ambles through Italy and beyond, congratulations — you’re in on one of the top travel hacks for exploring Europe. Using a Eurail pass will make your trip significantly easier, as long as you use it properly. For starters, you’ll need to validate it at a train station in order to ride. Always check the timetable, expiration date, seating class, and other details, so you don’t run into any surprises.
If you plan on exploring Italy by train, note that there are occasional rail strikes, but they are scheduled in advance, and Trenitalia, Italy’s national railway, still guarantees some service on strike days.
7. Planning to Sightsee on Sundays
Italy’s traditionally Christian roots mark Sunday as a day of rest, and accordingly, some attractions, stores, and restaurants around the country are closed or have reduced hours. While planning your itinerary, check each venue to ensure it will be open. And although many Italian cities and attractions are sleepier on Sundays, don’t let that dampen your trip. Instead, do as the Italians do and spend the day enjoying a relaxing stroll and leisurely lunch.
8. Not Buying Tickets in Advance
Many popular attractions and activities in Italy either have long lines or sell out completely, especially during peak season. If you don’t buy tickets in advance, you’re likely to miss out. You may want to travel with no agenda, and that’s a perfectly fine way to approach your trip. However, if there are any can’t-miss items on your Italy bucket list, book them as far ahead as possible. If you have any hopes of seeing St. Peter’s Basilica, for example, planning ahead is a must.
9. Only Going to Rome
One of the biggest mistakes you can make on a trip to Italy is sticking solely to Rome. Sure, the Eternal City has a lot to explore — the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Vatican City, and the Sistine Chapel, among others — and you should certainly spend time taking in these incredible landmarks.
But the heart of Italy extends far beyond Rome’s ancient borders. Drink your way through Tuscany, Italy’s world-renowned wine country; hike in Cinque Terre, home to colorful villages and crystal-clear waters; get lost amidst the cobblestone alleys of Florence; paddle the canals of Venice, led by a gondolier’s song; check another country off your list by working in a stop in San Marino, Italy’s little-known country within a country; and hit Milan, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily. It’s impossible to exaggerate all the beauty you’d miss if you only visited Rome.
Unlike in America, where waiters rely on tips to supplement their wages, tipping is neither customary nor expected in Italian bars and restaurants. In many establishments, there is a service charge already factored into the price of the bill or even a cover charge for extras that are automatically brought to the table (bread, oil, and olives). Look over your receipt carefully, and leave a tip if you feel compelled to do so because the service was truly exceptional.