Mini Travel Guide: Italy

Looking for a travel guide to Italy? Click through for Italian travel tips from a local - where to go, what to do, what to eat, and how to do it all cheaply!
Looking for a travel guide to Italy – the land of pasta, cheese, and good-looking people? I brought in a local to give us the low-down and share all her best Italian travel tips: where to go, what to do, what to eat, and how to do it all cheaply!

Hi there! I’m Gigi from The Ramble—a blog about travel and inspiration. This year I interviewed 100 Italian locals for a guidebook called Italy: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In. The idea is that the best travel tips always come from the locals…so I asked 100 of them to tell us about their cities and regions.
With those 100 interviews, as well as my own extensive travels through Italy (I just got back from my 5th trip, to the foodie-heaven of Emilia Romagna), I learn more about and fall more in love with Italy all the time.
Must go in Italy

Must Go in Italy

The Cinque Terre

Locals call these colorful cliffside towns “the land between sea and sky,” which is both poetic and true. The towns are vibrant, colorful, and gorgeous—and are surrounded in endless sea and sky. When you visit, make sure to walk the path between the five towns and, if you want an unusual view, rent a kayak in Monterosso and kayak away from the beach and toward the cliffs.

Assisi

Surrounded by hills in Umbria (Tuscany’s lesser-known, less-expensive, and just-as-pretty neighbor), Assisi is a great place for a hilly hike, a visit to the famous church of St. Francis, and a stroll through one of Italy’s most charming city centers.
Both these places (and Italy in general) get crowded in summer, so go at the beginning or end of the tourist season if you can (when everything is open, but you won’t get trampled by other visitors).
Must do in Italy

Must Do in Italy

Shop at a local market

Food is very, very important to Italians. So, shopping at one of the local, fresh markets is a great way to mingle with the locals, dig into the day-to-day culture, practice your Italian, and enjoy the fresh goods that each farmer or seller takes such pride in.
If possible, do a little research before you go to know both what’s in season and what the region is known for (for example, Vignola is known for its sweet black cherries and the Amalfi Coast is all about lemons).

Attend the opera…in an ancient, still-functioning coliseum

In Verona—the town where Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet—you’ll find one of the largest functioning coliseums. Here, you can see the Italian opera in all its glory, all while taking in the vastness and history of the coliseum.

Take a food tour or cooking class

Italy is all about food. To really get under the skin of the culture, you can’t do better than a small, local food tour or a cooking class led by an Italian momma.
must eat in Italy

Must Eat in Italy

Italian food is extremely regional (and often seasonal), so the best thing to do is ask for the regional or city specialties that are currently in season.
As a start, here are three top picks:

Pizza in Naples (anytime)

Even 10 kilometers outside Naples, pizza is different, so if you want to try the real deal, try it in the city center. One of the most popular restaurants for locals? Da Michele.

Artichokes in Rome (spring)

There are two famous styles of artichokes in Rome: the Jewish-style carciofi alla giudia (whole artichokes flattened and fried), which are (not surprisingly) at their best in the Jewish ghetto, and the Roman-style carciofi romaneschi (soft and stuffed with breadcrumbs, mint, and garlic). Both are Roman classics and worth a try.

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in Emilia Romagna (anytime)

This world-famous cheese is at its best in its original home of Parma and the surrounding area. For a real foodie experience, try the parmiggiano at various ages (a cheese aged 30 months tastes different than the average two-year-old cheese).
Cultural tips for travel in Italy

Cultural Tips in Italy

Never order a cappuccino after lunch or with a pizza

Italians believe that a milky beverage interferes with digestion and should only be consumed early in the day. So if you’re craving coffee after you’re meal, do as the Italians do and throw back an espresso.

Dress nicely

Italians take pride in their appearance, so you’ll notice that the locals tend to wear dresses, skirts, nice pants, and/or fashionable outfits. If you want to fit in, think fashionable and business casual.
Cheap travel in Italy

Travel on the Cheap

Travel during the off season. You’ll find deals on apartments, lower prices for attractions, and sales in the shops—and you’ll beat the crowds and the often-oppressive summer heat.
Go someplace you haven’t heard of. Everyone hits Rome, Florence, Venice, and Tuscany. And while all those places are wonderful, so are the foodie paradise of Emilia Romagna, the hill country of Umbria, and the cheerful, friendly south. Because these places aren’t as well known, they’re also often cheaper.
Just like most places, you’ll have a cheaper and more authentic travel experience using Airbnb. Here’s a beautiful cottage in Umbria for $69 a night and here’s a lovely private room for $35! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking.
Thanks so much for sharing, Gigi! Do any Italian readers have any good tips to share? 

23 Comments

Gigi

I hear you, sister. Every time I was editing the Italy book, I got ridiculously hungry (which is why I headed to Emilia Romagna as soon as the book was finished).

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Anna Boudoures

I just went to Cinqe Terre this past April and it was AMAZING. We went in the off season, which was nice, so much less crowded. Also, we stayed in a flat that was being rented out –> do this! So much cheaper and fun! I love Italy. I could travel there 50x more and still want to go back. Thanks for sharing, you've given me new ideas!

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Gigi

Agreed! I've been a couple times, but the best place we stayed was a "hostel" that was actually a room in an apartment. I loved the character and how affordable it was.

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Alexsia

If someone doesn't have the time to explore all 5 cities, would there be one or two that you would recommend? And in terms of finding a flat/hostel, are there any good sites that you recommend? (I'm stopping in Italy for my honeymoon)

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Gigi

I love renting from Airbnb. And where to stop really depends on what you love most. If you love architecture and nature, Assisi is a great pick. You'll also get the benefit of seeing the hill country. If you love the ocean and want to see some small towns that have been well preserved, Cinque Terre is a good choice. For elegance and history, I love Verona. And for food, Modena/Emilia Romagna is a great choice.

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Grainne

My best friend used to live in Verona, I spent so many weekends there using "I really miss you" as code for "I'm craving that roast beef pizza from that dingy little pizzeria". Loved these tips, I'll be sure to check out your book

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eemusings

I still miss real Napoli pizza something chronic. Never had a bad one. Unfortunately we had to visit in August (probably the very worst time) but we still got a eat a lot of amazing food.

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Gigi

Me too! My first ever Italy trip was in August (which at the time I had no idea was holiday time there). It was still amazing, but there are definitely better times to go.

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Michelle...

Yes yes YES! Get off the beaten track.
Umbria is my favourite followed closely by Romagna and Marche.

One of the best meals I've ever had in Italy was in Castelluccio which is on the Great Plain of Monte Sibillini – they're famous for their lentils. Divine!

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Anonymous

YES to this post!! I live in Emilia Romagna and the food is the best, but maybe I'm biased;)
Also, thank you Sarah for introducing Gigi to us. I've just checked out her blog and I already love it!
xx
Giulia

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kathrynoh

Thanks for the tips.

It's strange. I read so many times about how fashionable Italian women are before I went to Italy last year but I didn't see it at all. Most women I saw were dressed in leggings and t-shirts. I guess it depends where you go, maybe.

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Eithne Moon

I always enjoy to read about how we (italians) are seen from others. I actually am puzzled every time I see someone ordering cappuccino for lunch. But if you want milk with your coffee just ask a caffè macchiato, which is coffee with a bit of milk. And I honestly don't have such a precise idea as to why it puzzle me to see cappuccino for lunch, I'm sorry, I blame habit 😀

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Jamie

The Emilia Romagna region is one my favorite places in the world. We stayed in Bologna, which was gorgeous, and visited Parma and Modena. The food was so incredible it brought tears to my eyes – and we took a tour to see how some of the major foods of the region are made (balsamic vinegar, parmigiano reggiano, and prosciutto). Heaven!

Reply

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