Find out how to save money and avoid getting tricked
while travelling around beautiful Italy.
My personal list of handy Italy travel tips. All first hand knowledge - written during my travels in Italy.
All the tips have been categorised into sections. Just click on each tab to fully open and start reading.
TRAVELLING BY TRAIN
- If you purchase a train ticket at the station (counter or machine), you must validate the ticket in the little blue machines on the platforms BEFORE you get on the train. Otherwise you face a fine when the conductor checks your ticket. However, if you’ve purchased online, you can save the PDF ticket document onto your phone and the on-board conductor will scan the bar code from your phone.
- Beggars on train have a civil way of begging for money on trains. First they place a slip of paper on everyone’s lap in the carriage which contains their story. Then they come back five minutes later with their hand out asking for donations. In six weeks of travelling in Italy I never saw anyone give these beggars money – locals or tourists.
- Be aware of ‘luggage helpers’ at train platforms. If you're struggling to lift your suitcase onto the train, someone suddenly comes to your rescue and grabs your suitcase without asking. Before you can react they lift it onto the train and place it next to an empty seat. Once you sit down and thank them for being so nice and helpful, they hold out their hand and ask for money.
- When checking the platform for your train, always check on the computerised screens and not the printed timetables pinned to the board. Because platform numbers do tend to change, so the computerised board displays the most accurate information.
SELF DRIVE TOURING
- With self-drive holidays, remember the following when parking in Tuscan or Umbrian towns:
- yellow marked parking bays are for 1 hour parking
- blue marked bays are for different variations of multiple hours.
In both cases you still have to purchase a parking ticket from a nearby ticket machine. Prices range from €1-€2 per hour. Ticket machines also offer all day parking at approx. €12.
- Filling up at the petrol/gas station is simple once you know the system. You don’t fill up the tank and then pay the attendant inside. In fact we never saw an attendant anywhere. Next to the petrol/gas nozzle is a payment machine. You have the option to change the language, so you can follow the instructions. First you pay (cash or credit card) and select your nozzle number. Then you can grab the nozzle and fill up the tank.
TRAVELLING BY FERRY
- The following website is useful for checking ferries from Naples and around the Amalfi coast. You can then buy the tickets online or at the port up to 30 minutes prior to departure (even in July!).
- From Porto Venere to Cinque Terre, check the ferries daily in the morning as they can cancel due to adverse weather conditions or choppy seas. I don’t recommend to pre-book tickets for a later departure as closures can suddenly re-open during the day. For example, I had wanted to go to Riomaggiore but when I checked at 10am the only destination open was Monterosso. However when I went back to the port at midday, all ports had been re-opened and I got my ticket directly to Riomaggiore.
- Do your sightseeing in the morning to avoid the heat of the day (usually from 2.00 – 4.00pm). Plus some shops/cafes tend to be closed from 1.00 – 4.00pm.
- Avoid queuing up at major tourist attractions by avoiding the bus tour groups. Go first thing in the morning at opening time. Or after 5.00pm, as the tour guides tend to finish work by 5.00pm.
- Save money and buy local bus tickets at kiosks/magazine shops called Tabacci before you board the bus. Because you can pay up to double the cost if you buy on board the bus.
- Government museums are closed every Monday all over Italy. However the private museums are still open and just as spectacular. For example, in Florence the Uffizi was closed but found Museo di Palazzo Vecchio was opened. We marvelled at what we saw, grand rooms with grand frescos on the walls and ceilings.
- State museums are free on the first Sunday of every month – saving you more money.
- During high tourist season you will be waiting in queues for hours at all the major attractions and museums. In particular Rome and Florence. In Florence during June we waited 1.5 hours to get into the Uffizi Museum and 3 hours for the Accademia (that houses the statue of David). So if you have limited time or want to see two museums in one day, I highly recommend purchasing your ‘reserved’ ticket online for an extra €4.00 per ticket. They advertise it as ‘skip the line’ but you actually stand in another line! However it moves much much faster as you get priority. Purchase the tickets on the museums/attractions own website. In contrast, the other option is to queue early in the morning or after mid-afternoon, when the length of the normal queues are halved.
- Be aware of “agency” ticket touts trying to sell you inflated museum/attraction tickets while you are in queue. They seem genuine enough, dress well and carry Eftpos/credit card machines. So if you missed on buying a reserved ticket online, you may be tempted by these street resellers. But they will sell you a reserved ticket for an extra fee on top of the €4.00 online fee. For instance, we were quoted an extra €5.00-€10.00 per ticket (above the online ticket price + fee). Take note that the museums state that there is no guarantee of entry if you buy from these touts. However, we didn’t happen to see any unhappy customers. Choose wisely if you do decide to buy.
- Avoid visiting small towns on a Sunday as everything is virtually closed! Unless you like the peace and quiet of course.
BANKING AND CURRENCY
- I only saw money changers in abundance in Rome, Florence and Sorrento. They all seem to charge the standard 19.9% commission (in 2017) with a minimum fee of €9.90. However, a couple of times I saw money changers advertise no fee but specified a minimum amount that you must convert. Therefore, I would suggest comparing the exchange rates as they’ll probably offer a lower exchange rate to compensate for the no fee. Consequently, the best way I found to minimise the cost was to withdraw cash from a bank’s ATM. Check with your own bank with regards to their fees for withdrawing cash overseas. My bank charges a 3% conversion fee plus $2.50 per withdrawal, which is a lot better than 19.9%.
- Euronet Worldwide ATMs are everywhere and they also conveniently locate themselves next to banks too. Be aware that these ATMs do not belong to a particular bank so there will be extra hidden fees charged per withdrawal.
- Save money and unnecessary wastage of plastic bottles. Simply by filling up your water bottles at street water fountains located in every city and town.
Italy Travel Tips - Cities
- Rome may look large on a map. But the central part of the city is quite small where all the major attractions are located. For example, it takes 20 minutes to walk from the Colosseum to the Vatican or 10 minutes from the Spanish Steps to Trevi Fountain. Use your feet rather than the metro or bus and you'll discover the beautiful streets of Rome. And along the way find some wonderful cafés.
- There are a few hop-on hop-off bus operators in Rome, with varying degrees of service and quality. The best tour bus is called City Sightseeing Roma, with a drawing of a world globe as part of their logo. This company has the most number of buses, therefore less waiting time for the next bus. Plus they operate later into the night thereby getting maximum value for your money.
- Make the effort to see Trevi fountain by day AND night. Two completely different experiences and photo opportunities. Surprisingly, the night is just as crowded as during the day!
- For the best authentic gelato, which is also the yummiest, try Grom on Via del Campanile (one street behind the Duomo). Or try Botteghe di Leonardo Gelateria on Via de Ginori (near San Lorenzo piazza). Both offer gluten free and dairy free options too.
- To get out of the hustle and bustle of Florence or away from the hordes of tourists for a day, take a 1 hour public bus to Greve in Chianti. View the typical rolling tuscan hills while sampling some vino! There are a couple of wineries within walking distance of the town centre. Or visit the underground wine shop called Enoteca Falorni and sample the many wines from this region in one spot. In the main piazza, there is a tourist office and many shops and cafes to have a typical Italian lunch.
- Government museums are closed every Monday all over Italy. However the private museums are still open. For example, in Florence the Uffizi was closed but we found Museo di Palazzo Vecchio was opened. We marvelled at what we saw – grand rooms with grand frescos on the walls and ceilings
- State museums are free on the first Sunday of every month – saving you more money.
- A must is a visit to the Milan Cathedral in the main square. Both the outside and inside the church is so grand. It is the second grandest church I’ve seen, after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
- Be aware of the pricing of the restaurants/café’s around San Marco square. Apart from the prices being higher than normal, some will charge a fee just to sit down before you order and some even charge an extra fee on your bill for the live music they provided. However, you are paying for the experience of dining or drinking in the famous piazza. It all depends upon you if you think the ambience is worth it.
- If you are planning to spend some days in Venice and are under 29 years of age, then its worth buying the Rolling Venice Card – EUR6.00. It entitles you to discounts on public transport, museums, concerts and selected shops and restaurants.
- If arriving by train, the so called 'tourist office' is a travel agency wanting to sell to you, including city maps. Although they do offer a left luggage service for 3 hours. The official tourist office is inside the city walls in Piazzale Verdi. They are well organised with bus/train times and free city maps.
- The bus station is also at Piazzale Verdi. If you dont feel like taking an organised tour, you can take a local bus to interesting neighbouring towns such as Bagni di Lucca and Barga.
- I found that many of the restaurants in Lucca offered gluten free meals.
- Definitely recommend to hire a bike for a day to explore Lucca. You'll find hidden treasures as you explore the hidden streets away from the main drag.