WHEN to go
The most popular time to visit is during the summer months (June to August), but it can get downright steamy there, from both the heat and the throngs of people, especially in August when most Italians go on vacation. The best time to visit — to avoid the crowds, the heat and the need to compete at top prices with everyone else — is spring or fall. There are fewer crowds in April and May and you don’t need to drink your weight in water just to stay hydrated. The spring months can also be one of the best times to find deals to Italy. In April, you may deal with occasional rain, but it won’t stop you from enjoying your time there.
The summer crowds begin to die down again in the fall, so September and October are also perfect times to visit. If you’re wanting to visit Tuscany, especially, so you can witness the ripening of the grapes on the vine and maybe even participate in the harvest. If you’re hoping for a ski vacation to one of Italy’s premier ski areas, prime winter months are not the best choice, either. Aim for shoulder season.
what to eat
When we think of Italian food in the U.S., we think rich meaty red sauce, thick and creamy alfredo sauce, pasta, pizza, lasagna — but the food in Italy is quite a bit more diverses than we think it is, so it’s good to know a thing or two about the food culture in Italy before you get there.
It’s also a good thing to know a few essential Italian food phrases to help you while you’re reading the menu and ordering. We’ve found that even knowing the basic food names for things like chicken, beef, onion, mushroom, will help you immensely.
You know, things that may make you look like a tourist — like asking for Fettuccini Alfredo (which doesn’t exist in Italy), Pepperoni pizza (which doesn’t stand for spicy pork) and asking for salad dressing for your salad (Italians use their delectable olive oil and vinegar to dress their salads).
Menus are often divided into courses and it’s unusually to only order a bowl of pasta for a meal. Instead, you would order an antipasto, primo (pasta), secondo (usually a meat dish) and dolce (dessert). Of course, Pizza Margherita can be found throughout Italy. Try what very well may be the world’s best pizza in Naples.
Seafood and mushroom risotto is a Venetian specialty. Prociutto, porcini mushrooms, burrata (cream filled cheese), ravioli and gnocchi are all on the must-eat list. Just make sure whatever you eat that you’re prepared to embrace the Italian way of eating it. As they say, “When in Rome…” That isn’t where the phrase came from, but it surely applies!
When in Rome… eat like a local! Check out this Twilight Trastevere Tour by Eating Europe. It was one of our favorite food tours we’ve ever done.
what to drink
The two main drinks in Italy are easily wine and coffee. While cocktails and liquors are often served as before or after-dinner drinks, wine and water are the only acceptable mealtime drinks. And who’s complaining?
Italian wine is incredibly diverse and well made. With so many different grape varieties and all that sun, they produce some of the World’s best wine. To go to Italy without trying the wine would be a huge shame. Some of the big wine regions are Tuscany (including Chianti), Barolo, Montepulciano, Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont (among many many others).
Italians also thoroughly enjoy their cafe culture. Sipping on a cappuccino or espresso for breakfast or in the afternoon while relaxing in an outdoor cafe is nearly a national pastime. And don’t forget that delicious limoncello. Served as a digestivo, after dinner, it can easily take the place of dessert with its crisp sweetness. So many great drinks hail from Italy. Try ordering something different every day to get a full spectrum.
Prosecco, bellini, negroni, grappa, limoncello — all Italian drinks.