Italy First Time Visitor Guide

by Jessica on August 10, 2009

by | August 10th, 2009  

1sttimeguide_pienza_topItaly may not be a massive country, but there’s enough to see and do that it’s a little on the ambitious (if not a bit crazy) side to just say “I’m going to take a trip to Italy” without narrowing it down to a list of specific cities or at least regions you want to visit.

Still, there are some travel tips that are applicable to the whole country. So until I write a specific article that’s first-time visitor guide to each individual city in Italy, this first time visitor guide to Italy will have to suffice!

Here are quick links to the sections below, including what you’ll find there.

  • First Things First – Maps of Italy, basic Italy information, making an Italy budget
  • What to Do – Italy itinerary suggestions, Italy holiday calendar, Italy guided tours
  • Getting There – Finding cheap flights to Italy, looking for Italy travel deals
  • Getting Around – Italian trains, Italian buses, driving in Italy
  • Weather & Packing – Weather averages for Italy by month/season, what to pack for Italy
  • Where to Go – Italian regions, major Italian cities
  • Where to Stay – Hotels, hostels, agriturismi, vacation rentals
  • What to Eat – Italian gelato, pasta, coffee, vineyards, Italian food markets, tipping in Italy
  • What to Say – Italian language tips, fun Italian swear words

First Things First: Italy Trip Planning Basics

Even if you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of traveler, there are probably some things you want to think about and/or take care of before you leave home and head for Italy. There will also likely be specific things you’ll want to look up for the places you’ll be visiting, but these articles should get you started with answers to some of the big questions.

  • Basic Italy Travel Information, because it’s important to know things like the electricity used in Italy, the time zone, and how to use Italian telephones
  • How to Budget for an Italy Trip, to help you figure out how much money your trip will cost you
  • Italy on a Budget, to help you figure out ways to cut costs on a trip to Italy
  • Maps of Italy, so you know where you’re going
  • Italian History, because having at least a brief overview before you get there is a good idea
  • Travel Guides, since you won’t necessarily want to rely on an online guide for everything (or count on internet access everywhere)

What to Do in Italy

There is absolutely no way I can list here (or on any one page) all the things there are to do in Italy. In fact, in some ways, you can consider this entire website a list of what to do in Italy. But while this conversation is absolutely best done at the city or regional level, there are a few articles I can link to here that may help you get started with your trip planning and figure out how to prioritize all the things you really want to see or do.

Getting to Italy

I may forever be envious of people who only are a short (and cheap flight) away from a visit to Italy. That is, until I am myself actually residing in Italy! For those of you who, like me, look with longing at the cheap fares from the U.S. to cities in France, England, and even the Netherlands, know that you’re not alone. Flying to Italy from the United States can be an expensive proposition – or at least more costly than many other places in Europe. I have no idea why this is, but I do know that many frequent Italy travelers find that the best way to fly cheap to Italy from the U.S. is to book their trip in a couple of segments. It can be a little more of a hassle logistically, but it’s definitely worth considering if you can save a few hundred bucks (or more).

There are two basic ways of doing this multi-segment trip-planning. The first is to fly into a big hub airport in a city in the U.S., or to fly into a big hub airport in Europe. For the former example, New York airports often have good deals on flights into Italy, so if you can get a cheap flight into New York you could take advantage of one of those. For the latter, check for flights into London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt – and at the same time, check for flights on some of Europe’s super-budget airlines from those cities into Italian airports. It may not always work out perfectly schedule-wise, but again, it’s worth looking into.

Quick search for airfare to Rome:

Quick search for airfare to Milan:

Quick search for airfare to Venice:

Getting Around Italy

Italy is blessed with a fantastic rail network, which has made getting around Italy easy – and cheap – for hundreds of years. With the advent of Europe’s many super-budget airlines (like Ryanair, easyJet, and Italy’s own Air One), the country’s train system is trying to modernize and introduce newer and even faster trains so that people don’t abandon rail travel.


For most journeys in Italy, traveling by train is still the best way to go. It’s still usually the cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B, and I also like it because it does evoke that travel era which many of us consider a “more romantic” one – the whole “Grand Tour” aesthetic of rolling across Europe by train. Some places in Italy, however, are remote enough that they don’t have a train station – or the train station isn’t as well-placed for tourists as the bus station. And for longer trips, those budget flights are becoming better options.

The mode of transportation you use for your trip will depend on where you’re going, and you may end up using a few different transportation methods in the end. Here are some articles to get you started on your planning process.

Weather in Italy & Packing Tips

I distinctly remember my first trip to England, when my English classmates (unfamiliar with the size of the United States) asked me, “What’s the weather like in America?” It’s a question that’s impossible to answer, without breaking the country down into state- or even smaller-sized pieces. In Italy, there are certainly regional weather differences, but it’s a small enough land area that television forecasts also cover the whole country. You’ll definitely want to check the current forecasts for where you’ll be going before you pack your suitcase, but you can also get a general idea of what the weather is like in Italy at different times of the year.

I’ve written an article covering each month in Italy, including a bit of information about what weather you can expect and also what festivals, holidays, or other events might be going on during that month as well. You’ll find all of them collected on the general weather article listed below. I’ve also written some packing tips for Italy, which include as much about fashion tips as they do about weather!

Where to Go in Italy

As mentioned, there is no shortage of places worth seeing in Italy. First time visitors tend to hit many of the same spots, but you may also want to throw a less-touristed city or town in for a change of pace. Here are some of the most popular places to go in Italy, and a few that are less popular. These pages have links to all kinds of other articles about each destination, often including how to get there and back, a list of things to do, suggestions of places to stay, information about public transportation, and even day-trips you can work into your itinerary.

Where to Stay in Italy

This is one of those topics that’s best done at the city or (at least) regional level, but on a country-level basis I do think it’s important to bring up the different kinds of accommodation options in Italy. Because in addition to the ones most travelers know and would expect, there are a few choices you’ll have in Italy that you might not think of or find in other places you’ve been.

Quick search for hotels in Rome:

Quick search for hotels in Venice:

Quick search for hotels in Florence:

What to Eat in Italy

Okay, now we’re getting into one of my passions – the food in Italy. As anyone who’s read any of my food-related articles on this site knows, the idea that “Italian food” is the same throughout Italy is a false one. The cuisine of Italy is very regional, so depending on where you’re going you’ll want to be eating different things in order to sample the local specialties. But many of the articles I’ve written will be helpful no matter where you’re going in Italy.

What to Say in Italy

While it’s certainly not necessary to become fluent in Italian before you take a vacation in Italy, it’s common sense that learning a few words not only is a polite thing to do, it also makes your trip easier. The Italians are, luckily, overwhelmingly forgiving when it comes to foreigners trying to speak Italian, so even if you make mistakes they’re quite likely to work with you, understand you, and even help you improve.

photo at top by stevehdc

{ 83 comments }

ciableu August 24, 2011 at 1:13 pm
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OMG!!! I am so glad I found your site. Best travel info I ever found. We are traveling to Italy for first time in September 2012 and I am already nervous about what to pack/wear etc. Jessica covers EVERYTHING – itineraries, transportation, suggestions/ideas, what to pack and not, wear and not, weather, temps and just general travel and safety tips. Thanks to Jessica. I love this site.

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Jessica August 31, 2011 at 2:35 pm
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Oh, thank you so much for the kind comments! I’m glad the site has been helpful for you.

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maria September 13, 2011 at 5:59 am
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Hello Jessica,
I’ll be in Mlan in October 11, Monday and then October 16, Sunday. Whould it be wise to book tour around the city on Sunday and to shop a little bit on Monday? Thank you very much for all your articles. Very helpful!

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Jessica September 13, 2011 at 7:55 am
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It depends on whether the shops you want to visit are closed on Sundays – some shops (not food shops) are open all weekend, so you’d need to check. To be on the safe side, though, your plan is probably a good one.

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El January 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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Hi Jessica, I’m so glad to have stumbled upon your site. Just spent the past hour reading some of your articles. Totally blown away by how informative they are! I am planning a trip for my parents and me to Italy for 9 days (including airtravel) in early June 2012. I’m thinking of covering Rome and Florence, tentatively flying to Rome and departing from Pisa. Definitely not keen on having a jammed packed itinerary as I don’t wanna tire out my parents. Would like them to have a nice and relaxing trip, enjoying good food (in a trattoria?), nice coffee, and taking in the scenes at an easy pace, instead of rushing through everything that’s mentioned in the guidebooks. Could you kindly suggest an itinerary that suits our needs? Thanks in advance!

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Jessica January 4, 2012 at 10:51 am
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Thanks for the comment, El! I’m glad you’re finding the site useful. With 9 days, including air travel, do you mean you’ve basically got 7 days in Italy, or 9 days in Italy because that does NOT include your air travel days? I’ve got some suggestions for a 1-week itinerary in Italy that may be good starting points for you:

http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/1-week-italy-itinerary-options-planning-tips.html

And these tips on planning an itinerary in Italy may also be helpful:

http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/how-to-create-the-perfect-italy-itinerary.html

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Sue Wallis January 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm
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Hi Jessica,

Thank you for your informative website….I am going to use it a great deal as I am planning a trip to Italy in October with my husband.Traveling from Australia
I am grateful for your 3 week itinerary, but I was hoping to include the Italian Lakes…is this worth doing this trip and if so is it too much trying to fit both Amalfi Coast and the Lakes…if you were to choose which one to leave out, would it be the Lakes?

Many thanks

Sue

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Jessica January 17, 2012 at 6:17 pm
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It’s all about what you want to do more – you may have to leave something out, so prioritize the places you want to see most. Here’s how I suggest planning any trip to Italy:
http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/how-to-create-the-perfect-italy-itinerary.html

Make your wish list, figure out transportation, and then start cutting back. Think about what it is you want to see/do in each location, and read about which ones will be better at offering what you want. Hiking? Food? Scenery? Day trips? The lakes and the Amalfi Coast are similar, but not identical. It would be easy to add the lakes to that 3-week itinerary near the start of the trip and skip any one of the other destinations – maybe you visit Siena as a day trip from Florence, so you don’t need to spend two days there? maybe you shave a day off of 2-3 other stops to make room? – in order to accommodate that addition.

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winnie March 18, 2012 at 1:06 am
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Hello! I love your site. Will be heading to Naples and Florence in early June. Would it be terribly hot then?

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Jessica March 22, 2012 at 4:59 pm
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The weather can vary quite a bit, but June is usually very summer-like – including warm-to-hot weather:
http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/italy-in-june.html

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Steve April 2, 2012 at 4:50 am
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Hi Jessica,

I just stumbled across your website and on the surface it looks to be quite informative thank you. I am planning a trip with my wife for 2013. Most 3-city tour packages include Rome, Venice and Florence. We are interested in Venice and somewhere in Tuscany (Florence would probably do) but for a third we want to hit the Amalfi Coast and not Rome. Do you think we can save a bit of money planning and booking a trip ourselves instead of using a pre-packaged tour? We would be first-time visitors to Italy.

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Jessica April 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm
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I’m an advocate for planning your own trip, but that’s not always right for every traveler:
http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/should-you-plan-your-own-italy-trip-or-book-a-tour.html

These are the tips I’d suggest you use to create your own itinerary:
http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/how-to-create-the-perfect-italy-itinerary.html

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Gloria May 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm
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Hi, I’m doing a hiking tour with REI that will hike through Northern Italy for a week, including Tuscanyn and Florence. I want to spend 2 -3 extra days after the tour to explore. What would you suggest and how would I get there?

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Jessica May 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm
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Did you want to stay in Tuscany? Is that where the tour is ending? Where are you flying out of? If you’re hoping to stay in Tuscany, there are some places you could consider listed at the bottom of this article: http://www.italylogue.com/tuscany/ With just a few days, no matter what region you’re in, I’d just make sure there was good public transportation in/out of the town you make your home base (bus and/or train) so you can make day trips if you want and don’t need to rent a car.

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Florence July 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm
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Hi Jessica, first of all I have to tell you how happy/excited I am to find your website. It is the best travel guide on the internet! I really appreciate all the hard work, time and effort you’ve put into this site. Amazing work!

I have some questions that I don’t seem to find answer to them. And I need your help. I am an Asian girl (a woman to be exact! LOL) living in San Francisco. I will be traveling alone to Italy in late September for 3 weeks. I will be flying in to Milan, then taking trains to Venice, Bologna, Parma, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre, and then flying out in Rome.

I understand pickpocket is a well-know thing in Europe and I will be using money belt and be alert at all times. But do you think an Asian girl walking around in the cities will be an easier target for pickpocket or other crimes? Also since I am a serious hobbyist in photography, I will be carrying my professional DSLR (with a cross-body strap) and spend time taking photos on the streets. Will I be an easy target for pickpocket or even robbery? I am quite worried about this, but I know I will regret it if I don’t bring my gear with me. Do you have any suggestion?

Every time I travel, I spend tons of time doing research and make sure my trip is well-planned. But this time I have ran into a confusion/frustration, accommodation is part of it. There are so many selections. I know I may have to stay at B&Bs in some cities because of the high price in Italy. I have checked TripAdvisor and Booking.com and compare all the places by reading reviews and looking at their pictures. It started to be overwhelming and turned into frustration. Either the ones I like are out of my budget or the rest are too “yucky-looking” or too far from the city center. My budget is no more than US$130 a night, with WiFi, private bathroom/bedroom, clean, and in a safe location near transportation. Do you think this requirement is ridiculous and hard to meet?

This will be my true adventure (first time in Italy) and I am hoping everything will turn out fine. Thank you in advance and I appreciate your help. Happy travel!

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char August 6, 2012 at 8:23 pm
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Hi Jessica,
We are planning a month long trip to Italy, our first out of the states trip, and I would like to know your thoughts on not pre-booking places to stay. I’m nervous about doing that, but have been told by friends that its ok. I have this fear of being stuck somewhere and no place to stay for the night. I would like to spend time tuscany without a car, possible?

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Eva October 9, 2012 at 4:48 am
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Thanks for a good travel information, I would use it when i am in italy :)

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Luizze Oliveira December 11, 2012 at 4:26 am
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Well, Italy very beautiful country and there are so many tourists are going at the vacation time. If it is your fist visit then you should hire a travel agent who gives you detail about best places in Italy.

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derek January 24, 2013 at 5:39 am
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Do you think this is a good way for us to get from Marco Polo to our hotel, Hotel Al Piave in Venice?
We arrive at Marco Polo. From there, we take the Alilaguna water bus to San Zaccaria or San Marco for about 15 euros per person, one way ticket, and then walk to the hotel. If so, which do you think is better to walk from – Marco or Zaccaria? Do you think we should buy the water bus tickets in advance or once we get there? Thanks.

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