Italy is considered to be one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, renowned throughout the world for its incredible food, wine, culture, architecture, fashion and stunning landscapes. With so many amazing cities and regions in one country, it’s hardly surprising that Italy’s tourism industry has boomed over the past decade as hundreds of millions of visitors over the past decade, have come to explore the world’s longest and most geographically robust peninsula.
Yet, despite Italy’s incredible and wild array of islands, coastal areas and villages, the vast majority of first time visitors flock to the same cities and regions: Venice, Florence, Rome, Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast and Tuscany. Not only this, shockingly, though not surprisingly the vast majority do it in the same way by staying three nights in Rome, 2 nights Florence, 2 nights Venice and maybe a few (usually max 3) on the Amalfi Coast, with an excursion to Capri and Pompeii thrown into the mix or a day in Tuscany to San Gimignano or Siena if you happen to be staying there.
None of this would be a problem and in fact it isn’t, as a first time visitors seeing these major art cities and incredible geographic regions if you know what you are getting into and you know that this a ‘funnel system’ so to speak, made up of largely tourist states and tourist traps everywhere you look.
What our clients constantly want to know, is how they can see the best of Italy, without feeling herded around and overwhelmed by the crowds. Whether you want to interact with us and gain some useful advice, we will leave that to you, but keep in mind:
Not knowing what to expect can carry a heavy price tag, not to mention a sense of disappointment that you are in the vacuum along with millions of other tourists to Italy. To help you navigate these dangers, our experts have put together their top tips for what to do and what to avoid…
1. Avoid waiting until the last minute to book your holiday to Italy.
In many countries, last-minute booking means last-minute deals as hotels seek to fill up their unbooked rooms, but sadly this isn’t true in Italy. The finite number of hotels in Cinque Terre, Amalfi and Venice mean that early booking is essential to avoid disappointment and the inevitable prices soar as rooms become scarce.
In order to avoid the price hikes which come with waiting until the last minute to book a trip to Italy, no matter the time of year it will save you hundreds if not thousands of Euro to book your vacation well in advance to your departure date.
2. Avoid Seaside Resort Towns in August
Italy can be unbearably hot in summer. Much of June and July this year were above 100F, so not much fun for visiting open-air sites. Yet, accommodation costs in these months shoot up as the majority of schools and families travel during the summer months and visitors pour in. Italians also have their own summer holidays during July and August, though particularly August for the bulk of the working class is absolutely crazy in Italy in the coastal areas, though also now in areas like Florence and Rome, which before were usually less expensive during August. We definitely recommend coming here in the cooler spring or fall months, when prices are lower and crowds are fewer.
3. Question what you read Online and see on Social Media
You’ve been reading popular travel sites, checking out beautifully styled photos of Italy and are now dreaming of wandering the streets of Positano as the sun sets over Capri in the distance. Sadly, millions of other people are sharing the same thoughts about the same photo(s) you keep seeing on Instagram over and over of Positano or the Cinque Terre and by the time you get to the Amalfi Coast, you’ll find it hard to move around the packed Positano streets!
Of course we’re not suggesting you don’t visit Positano, it’s beautiful and we hope you do see it, but if you keep seeing the same photos over and over again on social media, have a look at a map of nearby locations you might find are dramatically less expensive and often less suffocating in terms of the sheer volume of visitors. You could save money staying in other towns of the Amalfi Coast and invest instead in private tours with local guides to see the best of area.
4. Re-think how you visit Venice
Understandably, Venice features high on most people’s Italian wish-list, but be prepared to pay for the privilege! Just the boat transfer from the airport can cost upwards of €200, yet most people leave after spending less than 48 hours in Venice and in a couple of nights or hours in this incredible location, after spending the time and money to get onto the island, most visitors here are missing the true magic of Venice.
There is a lot to see in and around Venice including the various islands in the lagoon and we think if you are going to go to Venice you should not go for less than 3 nights to make the expense of your transfers and the hassle it takes to get in and out of there worth it and not get swept into the numerous tourist traps and rip off schemes at work here if you are just flying in and out.
Tourism and tourists are posing such danger to Venice and her way of life, that locals are starting to openly rebel against the daily influx of tourists and cruise ships. Make conscientious choices when deciding what to do in Venice, supporting local artisans and experts who will show you the true heart of Venice and take you beyond the crowds in St. Mark’s Square. Here are some of our suggestions for more authentic Venetian experiences.
5. Beware of tourist menus and eating pizza at hotels.
You won’t find Italians eating in places that have pictures of food on the menu, or where the staff beckon you in from the sidewalk, and there’s a good reason for this. The food on offer is often frozen and generic ‘Italian’. One of the many things we love about Italian cuisine is that it it is so simple and so fresh. Some people say, Italian food doesn’t really exist at all because it is so regionally specific and the regions are almost like the countries of Italy. Each place you go has its own local recipes using local ingredients, which you really mustn’t miss out on. In big cities, most restaurants will have a passable English translation of the menu, and even if Google Translate has done something to the descriptions to leave you in fits of giggles, use some imagination, take a look around the room and point at the delicious things you see others eating and we guarantee you’ll have a far better and more authentic dining experience!
One of the worst culinary experiences you can have is ordering pizza at a hotel. For many visitors, coming to Italy is a gastronomic pilgrimage and you won’t want to be faced with the over-priced, frozen pizza most hotels offer. A good, homemade pizza, fresh from the wood-burning oven shouldn’t be more than €8-10, depending on your chosen toppings, anything more than €10 is a definite rip-off!
6. Cafes and bars on the major piazzas
Before you sit down to enjoy the view of the St. Mark’s or Piazza Navona, be aware that most cafes have a price for standing at the bar, and another for sitting down which is usually double. Not only this, they also have cover charges or service charges for being served at a table, so sitting down at St. Mark’s square for example means there’s no limit to how much the price for a simple coffee and water might cost. A simple espresso will usually cost you €1 at the bar, at a table in the center, expect it to be around €4, though in some places (like St. Mark’s Square in Venice), don’t be surprised to find prices as high as €12,00 if not more and some visitors have been hit with huge bills because the price for sitting down was not clearly spelled out.
7. Buyer Beware: Avoid Any Dish or Establishment where Pricing Is Not Clearly Laid Out and If they Have Special Dishes Make Sure You Verify the Price Ahead of Time
There are lots of ways that tourists end up getting over-charged after they have ordered something seemingly innocent. Bars should display pricing for standing up and sitting down, but if you don’t see the menu and order from the cheery waiter who asks what you want without showing you a menu, you could be walking into a terrible trap. Each year, there will be at least one story about a cafe in central Rome that has charged astronomical prices for ice-creams or a restaurant in Venice where clients are presented with checks for over €1000!