Top Travel Tips for Italy – Part 1
We visited Italy & Vatican City in the summer of June 2017. It was my first international trip, so obviously, I was very excited to see the best of Europe on my first visit! And, I can’t agree more that Italy is one of the most beautiful countries to visit in Europe. However, you need to be aware of a few travel tips for Italy before planning your vacation.
Since it was my first trip outside India, and we had 15 days in hand, I spent around 9 months doing all the research for the trip, planning things out, doing the bookings etc. Yes, I am that crazy!! A big trip needs a big plan, right?! I wanted everything to be perfect and well-planned out before our first trip to Europe! Well, I must admit that I quite succeeded in it too. 😉
So, here I am, sharing all the tips and tricks in 2 blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2) which will help you to plan an awesome trip to this exotic Mediterranean country! All the knowledge which I gained during the planning stage, and, during the trip, shall be shared here so that it saves your time and effort. You can thank me later on. 😉
Top Travel Tips for Italy – Part 1
We flew in and out of Rome since it was cheap and getting along well with our itinerary. We had booked our flights through Brussels Airlines. Many people opt for Milan-Rome, Venice-Rome, Rome-Venice, and Rome-Milan too for booking their flights. It is advisable to book the flights as per your itinerary.
Also, time your trip well, look for low-season (Oct-March) and shoulder-season (April-June) to save on airfare.
The sweet spot to book cheap flights is generally 10-12 weeks in advance of the travel dates. We had set the flight price alert in Sky Scanner in January 2017, and, booked our flights in March 2017 for our travel in June 2017. The flight tickets are cheapest to book on Tuesdays and cheapest to travel on Wednesdays/Thursdays. The most expensive days to travel are Fridays and weekends.
You require a Schengen Visa to travel to Italy. Keep ample time on hand for the visas. We got our Schengen Visa applied through the VFS website in 25 days! The Consulate General of Italy is being very strict in handing out visas recently. Apply for it immediately after you are done with the flight tickets and hotel bookings. Many people whom we know got their visas a day before travel! We got it a week before our travel dates. Phew!
Confirmed flight tickets and hotel bookings are required for the visas. They require many other documents as well, which are listed on the checklist on the VFS website.
**The extra document NOT mentioned on the VFS website which we were asked to give was the Joining Letter of Deepak in his company.**
If you have a long layover in some other country, make sure to apply for the multiple-entry visa and not the single-entry visa. Since, we had a long layover in Brussels, Belgium, and we wanted to explore it, we had applied for a multiple-entry visa. A friend of mine, who visited Italy few days before us, didn’t know about this rule and applied for a single-entry visa. Hence, she and her husband were not allowed to go out of the airport in Brussels.
We booked all the accommodations through Booking.com. It is the best website to book hotels, hostels etc. for any trip. It shows numerous options depending on your budget, reviews, location, facilities offered etc. Make sure to filter your priorities and then book the hotel. There are options to book refundable/non-refundable/partially-refundable hotels as well.
Also, try to book reasonably priced Hotels/Hostels/Bed & Breakfast with good reviews in/near the central area in any city. It saves your time and money to travel to the city center each time for sightseeing.
Sometimes, you don’t have to book a hotel in the city you are visiting. For example, we saved a lot of accommodation cost by staying in Agerola during our visit to Amalfi.
Staying in Hostels which provide you with a single room is a great way to save on accommodation cost in Italy. We stayed at this awesome centrally located pet-friendly youth hostel in Florence called Hostel 7 Santi which served a delicious spread of complimentary buffet breakfast and had a super amazing nightlife! You can try it out on your next trip to Florence. 🙂
Don’t forget to take Travel Insurance for your trip. In case of any exigency, this will be your savior. We had taken Religare Travel Insurance.
5.Inter-City Train Bookings:
The railway system in Italy is very user-friendly and convenient. Book the long-distance train tickets well in advance through Trenitalia.com. Some train routes are not shown months in advance on the site. They are shown only 2-3 weeks before the travel dates, so keep an eye on the site and book them as soon as they are available online. For short journeys, train tickets can be bought at the station from the counter or self-service machine.
We did not opt for the Eurail Pass since we found it expensive as compared to the train bookings made individually.
In case you arrive at a place in the morning via train, and you have to leave at night from the same station, it is always advisable to keep your luggage for a fee at the Deposito Bagagli (Luggage Storage) counter at the train station instead of dragging it throughout the day. These facilities are safe and convenient to use.
The trains in Italy vary from fanciest to least fancy, it goes something like this – Frecciarossa, Frecciabianca, Frecciargento, Intercity, Regionale etc. So, book accordingly.
If you are going during the tourist season, i.e. May-August, it is advisable to book the tickets for the famous places well in advance to avoid the long queues and huge crowds. Since we were traveling for only 15 days in June and wanted to cover as many places as possible, we thought it was a good idea to save time by avoiding long queues. Thus, we booked the tickets online in advance. Make sure to book the tickets directly from the site and not any third party website.
Do not opt for expensive local guides outside museums/galleries/palaces etc. Instead, opt for an audio guide for a better understanding of each place. You can even download the audio guide by Rick Steves on your phone and listen to it. We did the same during our Colosseum and Roman Forum tour and thus saved the audio guide fees. 😉
Visit the Vatican Museum at night. They now offer night tours, which can be reserved on the Vatican Museums’ website.
Skip the Vatican Museum line. If you find yourself in Vatican City without a reservation for the Vatican Museums and facing the typical 3-4 hours line, don’t worry you can pay to skip the line. There are tour operators offering “skip the line” pass. We opted for it and saved 3-4 precious hours of the day. If you don’t want the tour, refuse them politely.
Every Wednesday morning, Pope Francis holds a General Audience open to the public with thousands of people from all over the world. We were lucky to see the Pope on a Wednesday. Take the free pass a day before from the Swiss guards in the Vatican.
Climb the Duomo’s cupola (Florence), Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City), Bell Tower of St. Mark’s Basilica (Venice) for astounding views of the city.
Visit museums on free admission days (For most museums this is the first Sunday of the month).
Strictly follow the no-photo rule where ever mentioned for your own good.
Lastly, carry your passport copy and other identification documents with you always in your day backpack. Many museums and galleries require them to give you a ticket.
The official websites for booking tickets are as follows:
Roman Forum and Colosseum (Rome) (combo ticket)
Borghese Gallery (Rome)
The David (Accademia Gallery, Florence)
Uffizi Gallery (Florence)
St. Mark’s Basilica (Venice)
Doge’s Palace (Venice)
Accademia Gallery (Venice)
Last Supper (Milan)
We had attended a Musical Concert in Venice and it was mesmerizing! You can book it here.
Italy is not just about the big 4 – Milan, Rome, Florence & Venice. It has a lot to offer in terms of natural scenic beauty, culture, food, history, art, and architecture! You can opt to book the day trips on your own or through the tour companies online. We booked our day trip to Pisa and Tuscany through Isango.com. Highly recommend booking their tours. We also opted for a locally guided tour in Pompeii. Rest we managed on our own.
It is advisable to go for a full day tour of Murano, Burano & Torcello instead of a half day tour.
You can hike the entire Cinque Terre trail or take trains/boats connecting the 5 fishing villages. We did a mix of both as ours was a day trip to CT & Porto Venere. However, it is advisable to spend a day or more in CT to witness the spectacular lit up evenings.
8.Packing & Dress Code:
Pack LIGHT! I cannot stress this point more. It is always advisable to pack light for a trip, be it domestic or international. Especially for international trips, you must pack light since you have to carry everything by yourself. I am sure, you do not want to drain out all your energy halfway during the trip by the weight of your luggage. We had carried an OSPREY Farpoint 70 Litre backpack and a small suitcase with packing cubes used for packing. We used to walk for 8-10 hours on a daily basis during the trip, and it was such a relief to carry light luggage to the hotels/bus/train/metro stations etc. Also, be prepared to carry all your luggage up and down the stairs. It is advisable to carry a day backpack with you always which has all the essentials for the day and leave the luggage at the hotel.
Instead of carrying exclusive clothes for each day, carry a set of clothes which you can mix & match and wear during the trip. The same top can be worn with a pair of shorts/jeans.
Don’t forget to carry shades, sunscreen, hat, umbrella, long scarf, walking shoes, power plug adapters, few basic medicines etc. on your trip.
Make sure to cover your knees and shoulders in the Vatican Museums. I used to carry a scarf in my purse at all times.
Italians are fashionable people, so dress wisely. Please note that topless sunbathing is quite common in the northern beaches of Italy, and more frowned upon in the South.
Leave your valuables at home – Flashy expensive jewelry invites robbers.
Walk, walk and walk! When tired, grab a gelato and again walk! You won’t believe but we didn’t even gain an ounce during our trip. There was no trip fat even after eating 4-5 gelatos a day! How?? We walked a lot during our trip. On an average, we used to walk for 8-10 hours daily. Yes, accept it. You need to walk when in Italy. There is no other way out. Carry a comfortable pair of shoes/sandals for walking.
Make use of public transport. The bus/train tickets are available at the Tabacchi (Tobacco)/Newspaper shops in Italy and you need to validate your ticket before you board the bus/train. If you do not validate it, you are fined for the same.
Learn a few Italian phrases/words and use them often. They will go a long way in making you feel more confident and comfortable during your trip. 😉
“Buon Giorno” (Good Day)
“Buona Sera” (Good Evening)
“Grazie” (Thank You)
“Per Favore” (Please)
“Parli Inglese?” (Do you speak English?)
“Non Capisco” (I don’t understand)
Please note that in Naples, the local language is Neapolitan. Hence, you might have to use a Google Language Translator there like we did. 🙂
That’s all for this post guys! Now you can hop on to read Part 2 of Top Travel Tips for Italy.
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