Travelling in Italy is easy enough once you get past the slight language barrier! Besides the obvious tips like mastering the correct pronunciation of “Grazie” and other basic Italian words and phrases we’ve rounded up some of the most valuable tips to make the most of your trip.
1. Safety first!
Don’t keep your cell phone or wallet in your pocket, especially when on the Metro. Pick pockets are extremely talented, discreet and are most likely the people you least suspect. When the Metro packed it is very hard to keep track of your belongings and you often have to squeeze to get off at your stop and this is when most pickpockets strike. Locked backpacks and zipped handbags worked well for storing valuables.
2. Pack your most comfortable shoes …or live to regret it.
Even if you do make use of the Metro to get to the tourist attractions you’ll still have to walk a lot to see everything. In the Vatican Museums alone you’ll cover 14,5 km if you want to see everything! I finished two pairs of shoes and got quite jealous of everyone in their comfortable trainers. I never got the urge to come near my heels.
When asking for prices at street vendors and especially when shopping at the San Lorenzo Market you simply have to bargain. Decide on what you want and shop around to get a good idea of what a reasonable price would be. Often when you take the cash out and make a final offer they will drop their price-given your offer is reasonable. Vendors also become extremely friendly and are more willing to drop prices if you mention that you’re from South Africa.
4. Buy museum tickets in advance
We bought tickets online for the Vatican Museums and Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill in Rome and the Ufizzi and Galleria del’ Accademia in Florence and we were really grateful we did. Even though we visited in the beginning of October (Autumn) the queues stretched for kilometres in Rome. One of our friends spent an hour and half to get into the Ufizzi in Florence. When you take into account that you’ll have to spend another estimated 4 hours inside, the nominal reservation fee starts to look all the more appealing. For less popular attractions or those located further afield like the Boboli Gardens in Florence and the Duomo in Siena we joined the short line and entered about 10 minutes later.
Along with booking tickets in advance it is also worthwhile to keep a rough idea of what you want to see in your head and where they are. That way you won’t visit the Spanish Steps the one day and only figure out the next day that the H&M you wanted to shop at is just down the road. If you can allow yourself two days to cover the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. There is a reason the tickets are valid for two consecutive days as it is simply too much for one day.
Book accommodation close to the tourist attractions. In Rome we stayed close to the Colosseum and the metro, making it easy to get about even late in the evening. We managed to pack in multiple sites each day and could head back to refresh before dinner in the evenings. In Florence we stayed next to the San Lorenzo Market and ate almost daily at the Mercato Centrale before exploring the smaller town. Our friends who stayed across the river had a very different experience meeting more locals, but also packing in more miles. For a first time visit you’d definitely want to stay close to all the attractions.
7. Eat Gelato Daily
At anything from 1,50 to 4 euro gelato isn’t really cheap, but given the heat and humidity you deserve it! We tried a new flavour every day with some memorable ones like Melon, Kinder Joy and Orange chocolate and now I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
8. Choose your mode of transport carefully
We’d heard of the terrible traffic in Rome long before we headed over and I’d just like to confirm that it is indeed as terrible as everyone makes it out to be! If you do plan on hiring a car keep in mind that you won’t find parking for anything larger than a Smart car, with single-seat cars being quite popular.
We decided to make use of a combination of speed trains and regular trains to move between Rome, Florence and Siena. Even in second class the speed train between Rome and Florence was amazing with free Wi-Fi and a convenient vending machines for food and drinks. We did regret not getting a car to drive through Tuscany though as we glimpsed so many pretty hill top towns on the train journey to Siena.
Finally remember to validate all your printed train tickets at the green machines (which slightly resemble parking metres) on the stations and platforms. A lady behind us got a hefty fine for not doing so.
9. Insect repellent is your friend
It is not only your friend, it is your best friend (after wine and pizza of course)! If you’re planning a trip to Florence in the summer or warmer months you need to pack all the mosquito fighting power you’ve got. There were exceptionally many mosquitoes in the Boboli and Bardini gardens in Florence and no one who went to the Colosseum returned without a bite.
Italy’s peak season stretches from April until September when the climate ranges from mild to very hot. We visited in October, the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere and although the temperatures in neighbouring Europe were quite low we had great weather throughout. It was hot but not unbearable and quite humid. I never needed a cardigan even after the sun went down and it only rained one evening. Obviously this is also down to some luck, but I think fewer crowds and great weather makes October a great month to visit Italy.
Ready to live La Dolce Vita? Take a look at Italian packages offering you various experiences in Italy. It is unbelievable how diverse Italy is. I am already daydreaming about my return!