From ancient architecture to modern fashion, Italy offers the perfect mix of new and old, alongside one of the world’s most scenic backdrops.
However, with so much to see and do, a day at port in Italy can be intimidating, especially if you’re unaccustomed to international travel.
Thankfully, a little knowledge can go a long way. Keep the following suggestions in mind as you prepare for an unforgettable Holland America Line cruise to Italy.
- Always carry cash. Many restaurants, bakeries, and shops will not allow you to make small purchases on a credit card. Bill splitting is rare at restaurants; while eating with friends, be prepared to have one person cover the bill and others pay him or her back.
- ATMs are not always reliable in some regions of Italy, so be sure to exchange for Euros ahead of time. You can do so at most major banks.
- When visiting Rome and other major tourist cities, opt for restaurants far away from top destinations. The restaurants located within a few blocks of popular sites are notoriously crowded.
- When possible, take advantage of the aperativo, during which you can purchase a drink and enjoy a wide array of complimentary snacks and appetizers.
- The house wine is always delicious and nearly always cheap.
- Avoid city driving. The roads can be difficult to navigate, and other drivers can be surprisingly aggressive. When possible, use public transit or a taxi.
- Hailing a taxi doesn’t work in Italy. Do your research ahead of time and find phone numbers for cabs, or determine where fleets are kept — for example, many can be found at airports and railway stations.
- Pack plenty of modest clothing. Italians tend to show less skin than tourists expect, especially at church. When it doubt, cover up more than you think necessary.
- Avoid jeans and flip flops at fancy restaurants and churches.
- Don’t worry too much about having the most expensive, stylish outfits. Although modesty is important in some areas, there are many regions in which the locals care little about fashion.
- Find beautiful and stylish accents for your outfits at the outdoor markets in Rome and Florence, which sell lovely hats, scarves, and other accessories.
- Show respect for the culture by trying to speak the language. Most locals will quickly transition to English, but they greatly appreciate the effort.
- Drink cappuccinos early. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but it has merit — very few locals every drink cappuccinos after 10 a.m.
- Don’t bother with the pizza. In most restaurants, pizza is produced almost exclusively for American tourists — and it’s often a far cry from the quality of American pizza. Although there are a few exceptional pizza places, your best bet is to eat the traditional foods of each region, or, when in doubt, pasta.
- Be prepared for siesta in the southern regions. When the weather gets hot during the middle of the day, many businesses close up shop.
- Avoid long lines for major tourist attractions by purchasing tickets online well ahead of time, or booking tours that already include desired sites. If you simply show up, you could spend up to three hours in line.
- Avoid restaurants with pictures of food on the menus. These specifically cater to tourists and rarely offer the quality of local establishments.
- Don’t expect olive oil with your bread. In most restaurants, bread is used to scoop up leftover sauce.
- Italians view putting feet up on trains as rude. This will actually anger attendants.
- Wear supportive walking shoes. Fashion may be important in certain Italian regions, but only up to a point. High heels are not conducive to a long day of navigating Italian streets.
- Aim to visit as many hidden gems as possible. Feel free to ask locals for tips. Worthwhile destinations include Rialto Market in Venice, San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples, and Ostia Antica near Rome.
- The Vatican is worth visiting, but not on Monday. Because it’s closed on Sunday, overflow visitors who missed out during the weekend will overwhelm the Vatican the next day.
Your trip to Italy can bring about a lifetime of wonderful memories, but it will be that much more enjoyable if you are prepared. Learn as much as you can about the culture and the sites — and you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent vacation.