30+ Things to Know When Visiting Italy

When visiting a new country for the first time, it’s understandable to find yourself uncertain about local customs. While we found the Italian people to be very accommodating when visiting Italy, I’m sure there were at least a couple times that they shook their head in consternation over our cluelessness! Here are some quick tips that may come in handy before you go.

Be sure to check out this little guide to food in Italy, too.

cappucino
  1. Need a morning coffee? Look for a bar for espresso shots (called “coffee”), cappuccino, wine, and hard liquor. Eight a.m. is not too early for your first drink.

2. Italians drink their coffee standing at the bar. Slam it, scarf down a croissant, and let’s get on with the day.

italian market in front of church

3. Fresh markets are pretty prevalent and feature local (gorgeous) produce, cheese, olive oil, meats (including whole rabbit and horse meat), and fresh pasta. A person who knows the market schedule could just about skip grocery stores entirely.

italian market

4. Most grocery stores are very small, though you may encounter a “super” market in larger cities.

5. The quality of food far exceeds what our American stores offer. You know your favorite gourmet grocery down the street? That’s what the standard grocery store carries.

6. While American cereal aisles can stretch the length of the store, it’s a small section in an Italian grocery.

pasta aisle in italian supermarket

7. On the other hand, the pasta aisle.

8. Eggs come in containers of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, but not by the dozen. And they’re not refrigerated!

eggs in italy

9. Don’t touch the fruit. Stores provide disposable plastic gloves for picking up fruit. At open markets, the seller will choose your fruit for you — you just point.

fresh fruit in baskets

10. There are no scales at the checkout, so if you neglect to weigh and label your produce in the produce department you will not get to buy your fruit.

11. You will not find any first aid or cosmetics at the grocery store. That’s what the Farmacia is for. (You will not find cough drops at the Farmacia. Those are logically available at the tobacco shop.)

12. Supermarket checkers often have chairs.

13. Plastic bags are still offered in grocery stores, but checkers will ask if you need one and many people bring their own.

14. Refrigerators are very small. Keep that in mind if you’re hoping to keep a fully stocked refrigerator. It won’t take much.

pizza in italy is topped with fresh ingredients

15. Italian pizza is delicious and often comes with fresh toppings. It does not come cut into slices, though.

16. A pepperoni pizza is one with bell peppers. For something similar to an American pepperoni pizza, ask for salami.

17. Order a seafood pizza and you might be surprised to find it topped with clams and mussels still in the shell. Ditto the pasta.

pasta with shellfish

18. Gelato is good any time of day.

19. Many businesses – and most restaurants – are closed on Mondays. Plan accordingly.

20. Afternoon siesta is a thing, though times vary by shop. Arriving in a new city starving at 2 p.m. is not advised. It’s especially ill-advised to do so on a Monday.

21. Restaurants are open late and start serving late. Arrive at 5 or 6 p.m. and you risk the kitchen being not quite ready.

22. What’s available on the menu is seasonal and generally sourced locally.

23. Want water with your meal? You’ll need to order — and pay for — it. It comes bottled. Choose “still” or “gassed.” And there’s no ice.

24. You will need to ask for your restaurant check.

25. It seems like everybody smokes in Italy. Except inside restaurants, where smoking is prohibited. Patrons can (and do) smoke on the sidewalk. The sidewalk café experience in busy cities is scented by tobacco and diesel.

wine in carafe

26. When ordering wine in a restaurant, it comes by the ¼, ½, or full liter.

27. Italian wine is good, inexpensive, and is more often than not a blend rather than a specific variety.

wine in big stainless steel vats

28. There are places where you can bring your own bottle and refill with wine from a tap.

29. There are also water fountains readily available for filling bottles.

30. Gelaterias often serve wine, liquor, and coffee in addition to gelato. One stop shopping, there.

GELATO IN ITALY

31. Nutella is available pretty much everywhere but peanut butter is hard to find.

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