If you’re planning a trip to Italy and want to embrace the local culture rather than sticking out like a sore thumb, there’s a few things you’ll need to know. From learning the basic Italian phrases to knowing how to order your coffee, here are 12 things to master to travel like a local in Italy.
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1. Learn basic phrases before you go
It’s essential to learn a few phrases in the local language when visiting any country. Basic phrases such as asking for directions and prices, and using polite expressions like excuse me, please, and thank you, can make a big difference. It’s also helpful to learn how to communicate allergies to food or medication in case of an emergency.
Although most major tourist cities in Italy have English speakers, making an effort to use Italian phrases can show respect and appreciation for the local culture. It will also help you travel like a local in Italy. While memorizing an entire dictionary may be daunting, start by learning some simple yet useful phrases:
Ciao – Hello
A common informal greeting that can be used throughout the day.
Buongiorno – Good morning
A polite greeting to use before midday.
Buonasera – Good evening
A polite greeting to use after midday.
Buona giornata – Have a good day
A polite phrase when you’re saying goodbye.
Grazie – Thank you.
An essential phrase anywhere in the world!
Prego – You’re welcome or please.
Another phrase you won’t want to leave home without.
Mi scusi – Excuse me
This can be used to get someone’s attention or apologize for something.
Parla inglese? – Do you speak English?
Very handy for when you run out of basic phrases.
Quanto costa? – How much does it cost?
You can whip this one out when going shopping, but be sure to learn your basic numbers so you can understand the response!
Dove si trova? – Where is it?
Use this phrase to ask for directions.
Posso avere…? – Can I have…?
Use this phrase to make a request, such as ordering food or asking for assistance.
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2. Greet with two kisses
It’s customary to greet anyone you meet in Italy with two kisses, one on each cheek, regardless of their age, gender, or how well you know them. Italians are known for their affectionate nature and don’t hesitate to break the personal space barrier to say hello. Embrace it!
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3. Avoid shopping and dining in the tourist areas
This is true for most cities around the world – it’s better to venture away from the main touristy areas to get the best prices and quality for food and shopping. In Italy, dive into the i carrugi (narrow back alleys and streets) to discover authentic shops and bars and experience the real local culture.
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4. Learn how to order coffee the Italian way
There’s a few norms and customs when it comes to ordering coffee in Italy.
Firstly, you likely won’t see Italians walking around with paper takeaway coffee cups. The locals prefer to enjoy their single shot of espresso (caffè normale) at the bar or counter. The secret to ordering coffee at the counter is that you won’t have to pay an extra service fee if they bring it to you at a table.
Another rule of thumb is to never order cappuccinos past 11am, as this is considered a breakfast beverage. If you want a double shot, order a caffè lungo (long espresso), otherwise you will get two caffè normali.
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5. Dress well
The stereotype about Italians dressing well is true! If you want to travel like a local in Italy, you’ll need to dress the part to fit in with the fashionable locals. It’s okay to blend comfort and style, as you’ll need a comfy pair of shoes for walking on all the cobblestone streets. A good general rule is to avoid active wear or lounge wear in public.
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6. Experience the aperitivo
You’ll also need to master the art of the aperitivo hour (or hours). The aperitivo hour is the pre-dinner drink from around 6pm to 8pm. Go to a bar during these hours and they’ll serve you snacks and nibbles to go with your Aperol Spritz. It’s the perfect way to relax and hang out with friends, and you’ll really feel like a local when you embrace this custom.
7. Avoid asking for substitutions at restaurants
Italians take their food seriously and a chef’s vision is not to be altered. Asking for substitutions is usually considered insulting and difficult. But if you have an allergy, be sure to let your server know and they will be helpful and accommodating.
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8. Don’t put ketchup on pasta or pizza
If you want to let everyone know you’re a tourist, ask for ketchup in a restaurant. While ketchup is okay for a burger or fries, you’ll stick right out if you try to douse your pizza or pasta with it.
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9. Embrace the riposino
Some tourists might find it annoying that shops close in the early afternoon, but we say embrace it! The locals take a riposino (nap) during the hottest hours of the day and come out again after around 4pm.
10. Get used to later starts and finishes to the day
On that note – if you want to travel like a local in Italy, start doing everything later. From waking up to having lunch and dinner, and going to sleep, everything happens later in Italy. So don’t try to make any dinner plans before 7pm!
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11. Always validate your train and bus tickets
A common mistake that visitors to Italy make is not validating their tickets. You need to buy a ticket and then validate it as soon as you board the train or bus, to show you’re not using the same ticket for multiple trips. If you get caught without a validated ticket, you’ll have to pay a fine.
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12. Visit outside summer
The real local tip is to travel to Italy any time except in summer! This is the time when the weather gets sweltering, the school holidays hit, the tourists flock to the country, and prices go sky-high. While the Italian summer makes for an iconic holiday, we love to visit in spring or autumn (April to May or September to October) when the weather is still pleasant, the crowds have dissipated, and the prices are cheaper.
Do you have any local travel tips for Italy? Let us know in the comments below!