7 Italy Travel FAQs for First Timers

Going to Italy for the first time? Here are some essential Italy travel tips that I’m sure you’ll make use of on your trip to the boot.

picture of me at Dolomites looking up into sky

I moved to Italy at 29 years old to have my Italian citizenship recognized and to have a new experience (background story here). During that time, I made it a goal to travel to all 20 regions of Italy, a goal which I’m happy to say I achieved. 

But this post isn’t about me. While traveling around and talking with people about their upcoming trips both in person and online, here are the questions I hear the most. If you’re going to Italy for the first time, you probably have the same questions. 

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1. My AirBNB/hotel just asked for a picture of my passport. That’s weird, right?

Don’t worry. While it seems strange, in Italy, everyone who operates a hotel or hosts guests is required by law to register all guests with the city. So the fact that they’re asking for your ID is a sign that they’re running a legitimate operation. 

2. Do you tip in Italy?

I get this question all the time. The short answer is no – there is no expectation of tipping in Italy. However, if the wait staff, for example at the restaurant, goes above and beyond and you have just an awesome experience thanks to them, it’s not gonna hurt to leave a few extra euros.

Credit card payments are always done with a POS (point of sale) machine and there’s no receipt to sign with a tip. If you don’t have cash and want to leave some extra, tell then to add the tip amount to the final bill.

That being said, if you are at a restaurant in Italy and you’re trying to pay, and they tell you that the “service charge is not included, just so you know…” they’re trying to get you to tip because they know you come from a tipping culture. If the bill says ‘coperto’, the service charge is already included, and they’re just trying to take advantage of you.

Staff at Trattoria del Cavaliere taking picture with me
The staff at Trattoria del Cavaliere in Catania was a friendly bunch.

3. Do you need to make restaurant reservations?

If you already know where you’re going ahead of time, then yes, you should make reservations. In Italy it’s very common to make restaurant reservations regardless of how high-end the restaurant is. This is even more important if you’re in a larger group and in peak season such as July or August. However, if you’re traveling solo, as a pair, or in 4, you can usually find something last minute. Sometimes it’s fun to just walk around and find something – it may turn into the place you keep going back to.

I usually make reservations by calling the restaurant. In high tourist cities (Rome, Florence, Venice, Positano) they will speak enough English to take a reservation over the phone. Alternatively, you can check the restaurant website to see if they have an online portal to take reservations, or a WhatsApp number to text.

Note: most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7pm.

Antica Osteria Rugantino in Trastevere outside
Antica Osteria Rugantino in Trastevere, Rome. You should make a reservation here.

4. Do I need to buy train tickets in advance?

It depends – as a tourist on vacation, probably. The two train companies that most tourists will deal with in Italy are Trenitalia and Italo. Italo is only high-speed trains. Trenitalia has high speed (the Freccia lines like Frecciarossa, Frecciabianca, etc), Intercity, and Regionale.

For normal/standard regional trains (Trenitalia Regionale), you do not need to buy far in advance. Though if I know my plan, I’ll usually buy them the day before. The prices for Trenitalia Regionale (regional) trains will not increase closer to departure date, and they rarely sell out (however during peak season it’s possible).

For high speed trains (Italo or Trenitalia Freccia lines) and Intercity trains, you should buy tickets in advance if you know your travel dates. For example, if you know you’re going from Rome to Florence in 3 weeks on a specific day, go ahead and buy the tickets here. Tickets can sell out, and the prices will increase closer to the departure date. Note that tickets are usually released a few months in advance. If you’re trip isn’t for another 6 months, check back in about 3 months. 

seats on modern Trenitalia Regional train
Seats on a modern Trenitalia Regionale train

The best way to buy train tickets for most tourists is with Trainline. With Trainline, both Trenitalia and Italo are included in the platform, so you don’t have to think about one company or another. It also puts all train station names in English, which is not the case with something like the Trenitalia website. And if your trip includes other countries, you can keep using Trainline elsewhere for buying tickets. 

5. Does everywhere accept credit cards?

Most restaurants, stores, and pubs will happily accept credit cards for amounts over 5 to 10 €. But for small things like coffee, bottles of water, street food, or walking beers, it’s better and sometimes required to have cash. Plus, trying to use a credit card for a 1.60€ cappuccino is just offensive to an Italian bar owner. Your place of stay may require you to leave cash for the nightly city tax, as well.

Some independent stores, hotels, or restaurants will be cash only – why? Well, it’s cheaper in the sense that they won’t pay processing fees. It’s also cheaper because they can keep the transaction off the books and avoid paying taxes. This is very common, and the Italian government is notoriously bad at collecting taxes.

6. How much cash do I need?

How much you’ll spend per day varies per person. Rather than give you a daily amount of cash, I suggest you start your trip with 200€ and go from there. 

7. Where do I get cash?

I suggest just using your debit card and making cash withdrawals from an ATM at the airport when you arrive.  Be mindful of foreign transaction fees from your bank, and before you go check to see if you need to put a travel notice on your account so there are no surprises. Just be aware that with each withdrawal, you will have to pay a commission to the ATM.

You don’t need to get euros from your US bank, or use the currency exchange booths at the airport – both of which will charge you an absurd fee. For more information, read this.

ATM and Currency Exchange booth
ATM good. Exchange booth bad.
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That’s All for Now

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed or got value out of reading this. Please check out some of my other content like some of my recommendations pages. Additionally, if you’re planning a trip to Italy and need one-on-one support or guidance, check out my services page where you can get in touch with me.

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